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UCLA Retrospective: Women Exploitation Auteurs

Gator Bait

“SHE TOOK ON THE WHOLE GANG! A howling hellcat humping a hot steel hog on a roaring rampage of revenge,” screamed the tag lines for Bury Me an Angel (1972), a taut biker-revenge picture with a gender twist: Its sawed-off-shotgun-wielding avenger was a woman (tough and tall Dixie Peabody) — and so was the director, Barbara Peters. Peters is one of five female filmmakers highlighted in the UCLA Film & Television Archive series “No She Didn’t!: Women Exploitation Auteurs,” which offers a snappy sample of low-bugdet fare with special distinctions. While providing the necessary commercial ingredients of sex and violence, these maverick maidens applied idiosyncratic, often subversive touches. And no one subverted reactionary templates with progressive politics and social agendas as smartly and self-consciously as Stephanie Rothman, who will introduce her Terminal Island (1973) on July 24: In a penal colony convicted killers are left to fend for themselves; the (few) females are enslaved under dictatorship, then join the revolution: drive-in action reconceived as feminist allegory. More straightforward, Bury Me An Angel (showing August 5) and ’Gator Bait (1973, showing August 3) follow action formulas but give strong women center stage. The latter, made by Beverly Sebastian (with husband Ferd), stars 1970 Playboy Playmate of the Year Claudia Jennings — first glimpsed in much-revealing burlap sack couture as a “wildcat” redhead of the swamps turning the tables after being assaulted and hunted by retarded police and a Cajun clan (its malevolent patriarch amusingly played by Sam Gilman, like a hick Vincent Price). Similarly effective, The Slumber Party Massacre (1982, showing August 8) pits a group of young girls against a driller killer; its script, originally a parody of slasher films by feminist activist and writer Rita Mae Brown, was reportedly reworked, then directed as straight horror by Amy Jones (who, even scarier, went on to write Indecent Proposaland Beethoven), but the result retains many over-the-top touches, especially in the hilariously self-aware symbolism. To put things into historical perspective, a July 27 double feature is dedicated to the late, prolific pioneer of women exploitation auteurs, Doris Wishman. Her Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) — screening with Another Day, Another Woman (1966), another sordid tale of another fallen woman amidst urban decay, takes place in its own sleazy twilight zone: Its nightmare extends to the staging, flatness periodically gripped by expressionist bursts of bizarre, mystifyingly edited angles and roving handheld camera takes, accentuated by low-rent lounge jazz and violently asynchronous dubbing, making for a touchstone of accidental surrealism.

No She Didn’t!: Women Exploitation Auteurs: UCLA Film & Television Archive at the Billy Wilder Theater; thru Sat., Aug. 8. www.cinema.ucla.edu.

 

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