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Remind Me

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

It's the all-time favorite movie of cult director and trash aficionado John Waters, which speaks volumes already. And among devotees of the genre - a rather singular hybrid of action movie, black comedy and soft-core titillation - Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) is often considered the masterwork of exploitation maestro Russ Meyer, whose other films include the unforgettable Supervixens (1975) and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979).

"Welcome to violence," begins the sinister narration that warns of a new breed of killer female: on the outside soft, seductive and amply endowed (the Meyer hallmark) but vicious, amoral and merciless at heart. The film follows the adventures of three such women, go-go girls gone wild led by the fierce Varla. Accompanying this black-clad pan-racial beauty with lethal karate skills are her occasional lover Rosie and the action craving Billie, rampaging across a desert terrain in pursuit of thrills. Along the way they indulge in drag racing, men-stomping, kidnapping, sexual escapades (in a number of permutations) and initiate a scheme to wrest a fortune from a reclusive old man and his two sons.

Meyer said that he preferred aggressive females - superwomen - and he certainly gives full reign to his preference here. There may have been deadly femmes fatales in the film noir genre, but audiences hadn't seen such brutally violent women on screen before Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. While the previous decade reflected the American male's breast fixation in the form of Monroe, Mansfield and similarly stacked blondes, Meyer took that part of the anatomy to new heights. Eventually, his film compositions would be literally filled with the "talents" of such stars as Kitten Natividad (who also appeared in a 2005 hardcore knockoff of Faster, Pussycat directed by adult-movie actress Elizabeth Starr).

A former World War II newsreel cameraman and one of the first and most prolific photographers for Playboy magazine, Meyer broke through censorship barriers with his debut film The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), about a man who could see through women's clothing. By keeping nudity at arm's length with this plot device, Meyer was able to circumvent objections and get his film booked into theaters, earning back its miniscule cost 40 times over. When others started imitating his winning formula, he began to up the ante with soft-core sex scenes and violence.

After the success of Motor Psycho (1965), Meyer's tale of three bikers on a rampage across the southwest, his wife Eve convinced him to make a female version. The script was entrusted to Jack Moran, a former child actor who had reportedly appeared in Gone with the Wind (1939) and some "Buck Rogers" serials. A diehard alcoholic fallen on rough times, he met Meyer through one of the director's World War II buddies Moran encountered during an overnight jail stay. Meyer hired him first to work on the threadbare script of Wild Gals of the Naked West (1962), but it was with Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! that Moran got to sharpen his style of hard-edged, sardonic one-liners. Meyer claimed that to keep the ever-present booze from sidetracking his writer, he would lock him in a room with a typewriter and bolt the door, promising to let him have his liquor back after a good night's work. With no other alternative, Moran quickly delivered the screenplay for what was first known as "The Leather Girls."

At first Meyer's wife didn't like the script and had to be coaxed into financing it before Meyer could pull together a cast from Playboy centerfolds (including the magazine's first Jewish model, Susan Bernard, in the role of the annoyingly naive heroine, Linda) and Los Angeles-based exotic dancers. Foremost among these was Tura Satana, a real-life martial arts expert who intimidated several of her co-stars. She encountered no difficulty working on her own terms, even blatantly violating Meyer's rule against cast and crew members having sexual relations during production. Satana has the distinction of being the only cast member who got some residual rights beyond a salary for her work on Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (she receives a percentage of the foreign distribution profits). She also owns the rights to her own likeness and Meyer always had to deal with her directly for any re-release of the picture or new version of posters and other visual materials.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was shot on a miniscule budget in the grueling heat on the edge of the Mojave desert. It was not a hit on its initial release. But it was given new life by John Waters' rave in his 1981 book Shock Value, in which he called Russ Meyer "the Eisenstein of sex films" and noted the film's "top-notch production values, split-second editing, low-angle shots leering up at almost deformed, big-busted, domineering sex-starved heroines, and plot lines so ludicrous that all you can do is laugh along with the director." Waters also revived interest in Satana, tracking her down at work in a medical office and interviewing her about her role in the film. Meyer subsequently re-released the film to great success, and it still plays regularly on the campus and repertory circuits. Even mainstream critics and film writers such as Danny Peary who generally dismissed the director's work had to admit that Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was unique and surprisingly inventive, particularly in the startling, female-centered action sequences.

The movie has also made an impact on pop culture. The driving theme song written and performed by The Bostweeds (actually two B-movie and stock music composers in their 60s named Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter) was later recorded by the "psychobilly" band The Cramps. Faster Pussycat is also the name of a late 80s Los Angeles metal band, and visual references to the movie turned up in a version of a music video of The Killers 2005 hit "All These Things That I've Done." An episode of "The Itchy and Scratchy Show," the cartoon series within The Simpsons animated TV series, was entitled "Foster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!", and in the Canadian pseudo-rockumentary Hard Core Logo (1996), a punk musician suggests the band name "Faster, Leonard Cohen, Die! Die!" But perhaps the greatest tribute to the film comes from its biggest fan, John Waters, and his star Divine, whose characters often display traits associated with the wild girls of the Meyer film, especially Dawn Davenport, the character driven by her urge for sex, fame, fortune and violence in Waters' Female Trouble (1974).

Director: Russ Meyer
Producers: Eve Meyer, Russ Meyer
Screenplay: Russ Meyer, Jack Moran
Cinematography: Walter Schenk
Editing: Russ Meyer
Original Music: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Tura Satana (Varla), Lori Williams (Billie), Haji (Rosie), Susan Bernard (Linda), Stuart Lancaster (The Old Man), Paul Trinka (Kirk).

by Rob Nixon