Monday, April 11, 2011

Andy Warhol's Bad (Jed Johnson, 1977)

In a perfect world, unwanted pets and babies would kill themselves more often. If only they could leave this mortal coil by their own hand, or, in this case, by their own furry paw or tiny baby hand, as it would allow the rest of us to not have to worry about buying food, clothing, flea collars, yarn, chew toys, diapers and other miscellaneous items for their stupid, annoying asses. Unfortunately, that world doesn't exist yet, and since pets and babies rarely ever commit suicide, you're gonna have to hire an assassin to take care of the problem for you. Sure, you could kill them yourself, or hope that the pet, baby, or autistic seven year-old you want dead might slip and fall down a mind shaft, or, even better yet, accidentally eat that bowl of cyanide you left by their bed. But let's be realistic, with the sheer volume of pornography, and, not to mention, mounds of sweet cocaine floating around out there (two things that were practically crying out for your undivided attention in the late 1970s), who's got the time or the energy to murder or hope anymore? I know I sure don't, and I don't even like pornography and cocaine. If the premise I'm sort of describing is in anyway appealing to you, seek medical attention immediately, you deranged lunatic. However, when you get back from getting the help you so desperately need, set aside some time and make sure to check out Bad (a.k.a. Andy Warhol's Bad), and not just because it features a redheaded pyromaniac, one whose attempt to playfully wield a pistol-shaped dildo is thwarted by a humourless brunette, but because it's unwholesome cinema at its finest.

Spilling, not oozing, as for something to "ooze" implies that there's a slow leak transpiring, no, spilling, definitely spilling haphazardly from the unwell brain areas of screenwriter's Pat Hackett and George Abagnalo, and directed by interior designer Jed Johnson, this film is replete with the kind of loathsome people I adore most: Troubled outsiders who kill for money and look fabulous while doing so. Funny in a Desperate Living meets Eating Raoul sort of way, the dark humour, hilarious anecdotes about hideous éclairs, despicable acts and politically incorrect dialogue featured throughout the film really know how to rub their inflamed genitals against the inner thighs of good taste.

While it's true I did imply that pets and babies are put in jeopardy in this film, that does not mean that everyone else is safe. Far from it. Diner washrooms, one-armed mechanics, Jane Forth's dress, foreign film fans, ketchup bottles, Grandma's not-so precious pills, and the feet of hunky 29 year-olds are all at risk at one point or another during this film's chaotic run-time. Now what someone might have against a diner washroom is beyond me, but the assassins in this film do have a couple of things in common: 1. They're mostly women, and 2. They all split their cut with Hazel Aiken (Carroll Baker), an unassuming stay-at-home hosebeast who operates a hair removal salon out of her modest home in Queens (she can zap 360 hairs in an hour). Performing electrolysis, placating corrupt homicide detectives (Charles McGregor), and scheduling hits via her wall-mounted rotary telephone (some times doing all three simultaneously), Hazel struggles to make ends meet in a house she shares with her sickly mother (Mary Boylan), and her shy daughter-in-law Mary (Susan Tyrrell) and infant son.

Complicating matters somewhat is the arrival of L.T. (Perry King), a male assassin/kleptomaniac who literally likes to ride the back of the bus. Awaiting the call to spring into action, that "action" of course being the murder (they're calling it a "retraction") of a helpless autistic child with a plastic bag, L.T. is begrudgingly allowed to rent a room in Hazel's house (she frowns upon having male killers live under her roof). Ignoring the rules laid out for him, L.T. pops pills (even one's that have been swirling around inside Hazel's toilet bowl), is unapologetic about his tendency to ejaculate prematurely, watches loads of television, and behaves in a manner you'd expect a male sociopath who finds himself living in a house frequented by a steady flow of female killers, especially if one of them happens to sport an Italian accent.

Yes, you heard right, there's an Italian woman in Bad, and her name is Stefania Casini, and, yes, she is the same Stefania Casini who wore an orange bathing suit in Suspiria (she also has a nasty run-in with a room full of barbed-wire). Playing P.G., Stefania's character is an extremely sarcastic, no-nonsense woman who maims with a subtle grace. Hired to disfigure a mechanic with one arm by his two-armed girlfriend, Sara Leachman (Renee Paris), P.G. is told specifically to push him in front of a moving subway. Except, she decides instead to crush the his legs with the car he was working on and remove one of fingers with a pair of pliers. I guess she didn't think it mattered how she dismembered him. Anyway, she bags the finger, takes a photograph of the body, and collects her money at a local bar. What did she end up doing with his finger? Well, let's just say Hazel's gonna find a nasty surprise the next time she wants to spice up her eggs.

The nonchalant way P.G. went about her grisly business, and the fact that the guy she targeted clearly had both his arms, set the tone early on. Of course, the sight of a hyper-feminine (her tight curves drive all the waste collectors wild) Cyrinda Foxe defacing the inside of a diner washroom for no apparent reason in the film's opening scene was a tad on the bizarre side, and no slouch when it came to setting tones (you just don't get much of a washroom vandalism vibe when you look at Cyrinda). However, up until Stefania started to inflict actual suffering on her victim, all the talk of killing and dismembering was just that, talk.

Glamorous, tough, and scrappy as fuck, Geraldine Smith and Maria Smith are dangerously alluring and alluringly dangerous as Glenda and Marsha Montemorano, a pair of murderous sisters with heavenly voices who routinely get into fights with one another over the cleanliness of their panties. Let me quickly explain the pantie dilemma: While in the middle of torturing some guy tied to a bed (lucky bastard), Marsha notices that Glenda is wearing her panties. The pale-kneed Glenda tries to calm things down by suggesting that the panties were dirty, but this only seems to exacerbate the situation, as Marsha takes offense to having her panties besmirched in such a public forum. Okay, one guy tied to a bed ain't exactly a "public forum," but still, she was mortified by her sister's statement. At any rate, Marsha and Glenda start to slap each other in a frenzied attempt to save face. Oh, and if you really want to know what Glenda and Marsha's "heavenly voices" sound like, try to imagine Fran Drescher reciting the lyrics to "Warm Leatherette" with her mouth wrapped around the base of Susie Essman's strawberry-flavoured vagina.

The sinister task the Montemorano sisters are asked to carry out involves the killing of the dog owned by a man (Lawerence Tierney) who lives across the street from Estelle (Brigid Berlin), a misanthropic, gassy gal with some serious anger issues. You see, Estelle's still upset over an unflattering comment she overheard the dog man make about the way she looked in shorts the previous summer, and, after much soul searching, decides the sanest course of action is to hire Glenda and Marsha to rub out his dog in the most vicious manner possible. Fueling her desire for blood to be shed is the fact that he's been wearing the same blue pants everyday for two years straight. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it was the blue pants, and not the dog man's shorts slight, that sent Estelle off the deep end, as she really seemed to despise those blue pants.

I think Tab is the most aesthetically pleasing soft drink ever created. Everything from the design of its can (best font ever) to its straightforward name are immensely appealing. All right, I know what you're thinking: "While I agree with everything you're saying, why on earth are you talking about Tab?" Well, the film opens with the line: "Tab, Tab, Tab, why does it always have to be Tab?!?" And, seriously, how can you not love a film that begins with that many Tab references straight out of the gate? The child in the film who says the line obviously hates Tab (I know, what a little asshole), but his mother orders it for him anyway because she might want to drink it if her son doesn't want to finish it. While I'm on the subject of Tab, make sure to keep an eye out for the can of Tab languishing in the back seat of the car the Montemorano sisters steal.

With the exception of Hazel Aiken (kill all the babies and dogs you want, but don't shortchange the blind), the ladies of Bad are some of the most enchanting people to ever to grace the silver screen. I won't lie, some of things they do in this film are a tad abhorrent, but their innate loveliness somehow manages to rise above their acts of cavalier cruelty at every turn. Is it possible for someone not to fall completely head over heels for Renee Paris's Sara Leachman the instant she starts complaining about a pesky nose hair? I don't think so. Not only did I find her brash demeanour and strident speaking voice to be exhilarating, I thought Renee's "If we're lucky he'll fall right and be dismembered" was one of the funniest lines in the entire film, as the manner in which it was uttered was so wonderfully deadpan.

How about the scene where Ingrid Joyner (Tere Tereba), the frustrated mother of a young autistic boy, wonders aloud to a friend (Kitty Bruce) if she aborted the wrong child? You can't help but feel all tingly in your underpants for Mrs. Joyner as she plans to the death of her son. Yeah, I'm sure some of you can totally help it (your downstairs tingle has been replaced with upstairs scorn). But you've got to understand, I'm inherently drawn to demented women, especially one's who are gorgeous in a decidedly off-kilter way and periodically conspire to have their disabled offspring murdered.

Another reason why I didn't like Hazel was because she was rude towards Mary, and like I've always said, those who treat Susan Tyrrell badly, whether it be in a movie or in real life, are no friend of mine. Of course, P.G. and the Montemorano sisters aren't exactly friendly to Mary, either. But at least their nastiness is out in the open, Hazel's hostility, on the other hand, lingers underneath the surface, slowly gnawing away at Mary's frayed nerves. Anyway, wearing a yellow plastic bow in her hair (which did a competent job of keeping her greasy bangs in check), a ratty housecoat, and constantly clutching onto this dead-eyed baby (it was like a purse, only instead of holding loose change and oral contraceptives, it cried, burped and occasionally soiled itself), Susan Tyrrell (Forbidden Zone), despite her suspect parenting skills, is the moral conscience of the Bad universe (she's the only one who openly disapproves of the murder of pets and children). Her appeal as an actress has always been her ability to convey emotion by simply raising her head and looking at whatever hr character happens to be looking at. After she does that, her warm, inviting eyes and killer cheekbones do the rest.

If I had my choice of being murdered by any of the amoral characters who populate Bad, it would definitely have to be Geraldine Smith's Glenda Montemorano, and, no, not just because she looked divine in red knee socks. Well, actually, now that I think about it, that's a pretty sane reason to choose her as the sexy cause of my untimely death. I mean, who doesn't want to murdered by a crazed woman from Queens who wears red socks? Nobody I know, that's for damn sure. Anyway, I also liked her habit of setting fires and penchant for blinking.

The infamous baby tossing scene, infamous because the words "baby" and "tossing" shouldn't ever really be put together, is a brief yet comically horrifying slice of over the top unpleasantness. A stressed out mother (are there any other kind in this movie?), played by the luminous Susan Blond, can be seen arguing on the telephone with the father of her infant son over who's gonna pay the assassin (Barbara Allen) that is currently on her way to kill their baby. Growing impatient with the tardy assassin (and the baby's crying ain't helping, either), she decides to take matters into her own hands and throws her baby out the window of her high-rise apartment.

While I was shocked by this wanton display of irregular childcare, I was more concerned about the structural makeup of Susan Blond's exquisite chin. Standing in profile, I couldn't help but notice what a bodacious chin she had as she flung her baby (a baby that produced more arterial spray than a broken fire hose), it was like staring at a mind-blowing work of art (the chin, not the fountain of baby blood). My hope is that Susan took pride in her chin and wasn't tempted to mess with it as she became more successful in 1980s (she went to found the publicity agency, Susan Blond, Inc.). Of course, some of you will say that by focusing on her chin, I found a clever way of shielding myself from the horror transpiring on-screen. It's a good theory and all, but don't ever underestimate my love of chins. Oh, and just for record: I love pets and babies, and don't think they should ever be harmed.

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  1. BAD is boss. I love it so much. One filmmaker it reminded me of was Hal Hartley, and there's very little I like more than HAL.

    Great piece, Yum. There's always something to learn in these reviews. Thinking outloud, but I'd love to read the things you could write about "L'amour Braque". You'd go MAD!

  2. I love Henry Fool.

    Thanks, film is nothing. Mad, eh? Hmm, I'll definitely add L'amour Braque to my list.