Critipeg: Bad Girls Go To Hell and Indecent Desires

★★★½ out of 5

Supplied photos

Shock and voodoo and nudity, oh my! As part of its weekly Trash Cult Tuesdays series, the Dave Barber Cinematheque will present two vintage psychosexual thrillers back to back. The queen of nudie cinema, Doris Wishman, takes centre stage with her films Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) and Indecent Desires (1968). No pearls will be left unclutched.

In Bad Girls Go to Hell, doting housewife Meg (Gigi Darlene) is forced on the lam after killing an attempted rapist in self-defence in her apartment building. Fearing her Brylcreemed husband and the local authorities won’t believe her, Meg flees, and misadventure follows.

Bad Girls begins with a sly wink and a bang, despite the graphic subject matter that pervades the film. The opening credits are the best peepshow I’ve been to all week, with a slideshow of the film’s most exploitative frames set to a jazzy, whimsical score that flirts with irreverence throughout the entire flick. The movie bucks tradition right away by actually showing the shave and shower after a late-night tryst, no holds barred.

It can be hard to forget that the primary goal here is titillation. Meg contorts herself into a seductive pretzel on her bed for no one in particular, and characters dance nude and rub themselves all over, presumably due to an excess of self-confidence.

This goes for both films, but it can be hard to tell if Wishman is satirizing or earnestly satisfying the male gaze. It’s perhaps a healthy combination. Nevertheless, she elevates her own boilerplate script with playful, distinctive direction and inventive manipulation of the frame.

It’s less of a woman’s fantasy and more of a recurring nightmare, although Meg is given agency unheard of in similar pictures of the time. What else to expect from the writer and director whose muse was exotic dancer Chesty Morgan?

Indecent Desires is a bit drier, and that’s no innuendo. A strange hermit finds a doll and a sumptuous ring in a trashcan one day and takes to both quite strangely. After seeing working girl Ann (Sharon Kent) on the street, who bears a passing resemblance to his new toy, he somehow initiates a psychic connection that allows him to fondle Ann through voodoo magic.

Despite the supernatural content that evokes memories of EC Comics Shock SuspenStories, this one is a one-trick pervert. Ann is powerless to her long-distance abuser, and her friends and family can only react with polite puzzlement to her predicament before the movie’s sensationalist ending. Not to mention, Wishman’s style for declaratory dialogue begins to grate when things don’t move along fast enough to forget about it. I’m sure John Waters loves this one, but it just passes muster.

It should be noted that the American Genre Film Archive’s restoration of both films is quite impressive. One can imagine how crummy films like this must’ve looked previously, but here the picture is crystal clear besides a few hiccups in the film reels. The poor dubbing and spasmodic editing are minor, unavoidable annoyances that would likely be praised were this a modern homage to exploitation à la Grindhouse (2007).

All in all, this is a pretty good bad time at the movies.

Published in Volume 78, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 15, 2024)

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