Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hard to Die (Jim Wynorski, 1990)

It's a dilemma that every director must face: How do I get my female characters into skimpy lingerie? You can't just have them walking down the street at the start of the film in nothing but their bras and panties, you need come up with a reason that will satisfy the people in the audience who require their entertainment to be based in reality. If I was directing, I would have said to hell with realism, let's get these women into some filly panties, stat! Unfortunately, I'm not directing. But luckily, Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall) is, and if anyone knows how to get a bunch of leggy women trapped in a high rise office building to wear impractical clothing, it's him. Bringing his unique perspective to the proceedings, Mr. Wynorski somehow manages to find away to get the five actresses who appear in Hard to Die (a.k.a. Nighty Nightmare II and Sorority House Massacre 3) to sheath their luscious bodies in lingerie in a manner that will appease both pragmatists and perverts alike. It's quite the remarkable feat, if you think about it. If you don't think about it, well, I can't help you, because I'm only down with people who think about such things. There's no logical reason why the women who frolicked, romped, cavorted, blasted, and occasionally cowered their way through this film's low budget universe should have ended up dressed like that; it baffles the mind and tickles the tip of Ernest Borgnine's penis. It's a testament to the tireless effort put forth by everyone involved with this seemingly innocuous production that the film was able to soar to higher than any lingerie-based thriller has ever soared.
The answer to the question I posed earlier–you know, the one that pertained to the methods a director should use to get their characters to wear clothing that conflicts with their environment–is easy: Have your film take place at the headquarters of a company that produces lingerie. Done, and done. Okay, that's all fine and good, but that still doesn't explain how the women go from wearing their street clothes (jean shorts and little black dresses) to changing into lingerie. Don't worry, the makers of Hard to Die have a plan, a deceptively simple plan. 
First thing you need to do is sully the clothes they're currently wearing, the logic being they're not gonna change out of their clothes for nothing. Yeah, but how do you ruin the clothes of five characters simultaneously? You want all of them in lingerie, not just some of them. The best way achieve this is to have all your characters gather in the same room. When you've done that, utilize a fire sprinkler system. Just have it go off or something. Soaked with water and mildly annoyed, have your characters take a shower (the CEO should have one in his office). Instead waiting for their clothes to dry, have one of the characters suggest that they should wear lingerie in the meantime (it being a company that makes lingerie, finding some to wear shouldn't be a problem).
Learning who's who in a film like Hard to Die poses an even bigger quandary than getting your cast in lingerie, as the brain energy required to keep track of five scantily clad white women will no doubt sap the strength of even the most ardent of deviants. As luck would have it, each cast member had a unique quality about them that helped me distinguish one from the other. For starters, Shayna (Bridget Carney), street clothes: white cowboy boots - lingerie: purple nightie, had a Latino vibe about her, and Dawn Grant (Gail Harris), street clothes: jean shorts with red boots - lingerie: red panties, who sounded English, were easy pick out of the crowd.
The statuesque Tess (Melissa Moore), street clothes: black dress - lingerie: black nightie, was the only blonde in the group (plus, she had curves in all the right places), Diana (Karen Mayo-Chandler), street clothes: blue dress with titillation holes on the side - lingerie: blue nightie, was the ubiquitous tall brunette, and Jackie (Deborah Dutch) street clothes: short black skirt with matching pumps - lingerie: black panties paired with a red and black top, had the distinction of being the film's leggiest gal.
I just remembered that Diana, the tall, well, tall compared to Deborah Dutch, who couldn't have been taller than 5' 2", brunette actually didn't get sprayed with sprinkler water, because she was busy moving boxes marked "Acme Lingerie." The reason she takes a shower was because she was so sweaty from all that heavy lifting.
Lifting boxes?!? Yeah, that's right. The five women I just mentioned have been instructed to move boxes from the basement of a high rise office building for Acme Lingerie. Four of the ladies, while waiting for the elevator, are told the story of a sorority house massacre by a creepy janitor named Orville Ketchum (Peter Spellos) and handed a mysterious package.
After meeting up with the fifth member of their party (a tall brunette who's shtupping the guy who runs Acme Lingerie), the women decide to open the crazy-looking box that was inside the mysterious package. A demonic force shoots out of the box, and proceeds to fly around the room. The ladies shrug it off the supernatural weirdness that just transpired and decide to take showers, wear lingerie (Dawn requests a top that will compliment her red panties), and order Chinese food. 
The order in which the women take their respective showers will probably be the order in which they meet their inevitable demise at the hands with the ghost of a crazed killer. Which is a shame really, because I was content with just watching the women move boxes while wearing lingerie. But I guess some of them have to die, it's the way horror movies work.
Surprisingly, the first woman to be killed just happens to the one whose character is developed the most. Check this out, not only do we learn that she's trying to get an agent, we also find out that she hurt her back skiing the previous year. Other than the colour of their panties, I can't tell you much about the other women.
Speaking of panties, keep an eye on the red panties worn by Gail Harris as she makes her way up the stairs. Why would I want do something like that? Trust me, look at her red panties. If you do, you'll notice there's tag is sticking out of the back of her red panties as she climbs one flight of stairs. But as she tackles the next flight, the tag is missing. What happened between flights? Did the tag manage to tuck itself back inside her red panties thanks to the duress caused by the vigorous stair climbing or did Gail tuck it back in herself? Fascinating stuff.  
This is probably way off base, but I wonder if the other actresses in the cast were jealous of Deborah Dutch's shapely legs. The only reason I bring this up is because a lot of the shots in the film require the actresses to stand beside each other for extended periods of time, and while they were doing all this standing around, all I could think about was the sight of Gail Harris and Karen Mayo-Chandler growing increasingly angry between takes over the fact that had to stand next to Deborah Dutch, whose legs are pretty much perfect in terms of shapeliness.
Yeah, but can Deborah Dutch operate a telephone, fire an assault rifle, stab a janitor, use a trash can lid as a weapon, and recite dialogue in a semi-convincing manner? Yeah, well...okay, no, she can't do any of those things. But do you know who can? You're way ahead of me. The spunky Gail Harris, that's who. Saddled with the unenviable task of being the one responsible for moving the ridiculous plot forward, Gail, a former Page 3 girl from Batley, England, does the majority of the film's story-centric heavy lifting.
Sure, fellow Brit, Surrey's Karen Mayo-Chandler (Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls), lifts stuff as well, but Gail's lifting was way more important. I mean, if it wasn't for Gail's tireless commitment acting and junk, there would be no movie. All you would have is a series of lame kills and a dead on arrival police investigation subplot. 
Um, hello? You forgot about the lingerie. Did I? Oh yeah, I guess I did. To tell you the truth, the lingerie wasn't all that great. Seriously, if you're gonna make a movie about five leggy women trapped in a lingerie factory, you should at least have one of them wear a pair of stockings. You mean to tell me none of the women wear stockings?!? What the fuck? What the fuck, indeed. The people in the costume and wardrobe department should be ashamed of themselves for this nylon-based oversight.   
While somewhat better than Evil Toons (both feature a group of scantily clad women who are forced to perform manual labour in an enclosed space to the music of Chuck Cirino), Hard to Die still manages to come up short as a slice of undercooked schlock. You have to admit, the decision to kill off the characters in relation to their lack of talent (the less adept thespians are mercifully dispatched in the early going) was an admirable one. But I'll never forgive the film's mishandling of the lingerie. If only Jim Wynorski had consulted Jess Franco (Faceless) or Tinto Brass (All Ladies Do It), directors who know a thing or two about titillation and eroticism (his idea of sexy is to insert funny sound effects while the women wash their boobies in the shower), then you might have had something. Instead, what we're left with is a mildly amusing flick that is saved by a leggy gal from Titusville, New Jersey and a plucky chick from Yorkshire.


  1. Great review. Titilation is every bit as valid a reason to make a film as any other emotion you want to evoke.

    I say Wynorski is in that regard the Sir David Lean of T&A films.

    I will add that his movies have definitely gone downhill. At some point you cross a line to where you've eradicated all plot and acting.... and it just takes all the fun out of it. Give me Hard to Die any day over the Bare Wench Project.

  2. Thanks, Gilligan.

    I can't believe the "Bare Wench Project" is a real thing. I'm gonna go ahead and assume that the bulk of the film's cleverness starts and ends with the title.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to wander the city looking for modern day examples of the upskirt prevention pose.