Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) | Is this THE cult movie to end all cult movies?
This is not a sequel. There has never been anything like it!
Cult film history was made when maverick sexploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer joined forces with fellow boob lover Roger Ebert for their 1970 Hollywood satire, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. A fusion of rock, horror, exploitation and musical, it was a project made entirely by accident by two outsiders whom 20th Century Fox bravely gave free reign to in a bid to reverse their dwindling box-office receipts. The result was a freakish creation indeed!
This time… they’ve really gone
This wild ride follows band mates Kelly (Dolly Read), Casey (Cynthia Myers) and Petronella (Marcia McBroom), and their naïve manager Harris (David Gurian), as they are taken under the wing of a egocentric LA music mogul, Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John LaZar). But temptation leads our Scooby gang astray (well they do ride around in a combi-van) and their individual fates are all linked to the colourful characters they encounter, including heiress Susan (Phyllis Davis), pretty boy gigolo Lance (Michael Blodgett), sapphic fashion designer Roxanne (Erica Gavin), porn star Ashley (Edy Williams), heavyweight champ Randy (James Iglehart), and dedicated law student Emerson (Harrison Page).
Painted with a gaudy psychedelic palette, this demented parody of Fox’s pill-popping 1967 melodrama Valley of the Dolls cranks up the soap opera elements to camp excess, while Ebert’s tongue-in-cheek moralising script shines a cynical spotlight on the Hollywood dream factory and the hippy movement – which was dealt a final death blow in the wake of the Manson family murders, and which inspired the film’s OTT drug-fuelled climax.
The first of the shock rock!
Ebert, of course, not only gave the film its satirical edge and comic tone, but also its immensely quotable dialogue. And he should have got a special award for coming up with lines like: ‘You’re a groovy boy, I want to strap you on sometime’ and ‘You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance’? It’s bonkers, brilliant, and the stuff of legend, as is the incredibly catchy hippy folk rock score.
With help from stoner band The Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Sandpipers, Stu Phillips (who gave us the Battlestar Galactica theme and also worked with The Monkees) and soul singer Lynn Carey (whose full throttled voice is the one behind Dolly Read’s lip-synching) produced one of the greatest film musical soundtracks of all time. Its so deserving of a Rocky Horror-styled sing-along screening.
And what do critics know anyhow! When BVD was released it was labelled ‘garbage’, ‘sick’, and ‘a totally degenerate enterprise’. But it’s now the ultimate cult movie and – if you look closely – you can see its progeny today in shows like Desperate Housewives and Scream Queens.
Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release features a gorgeous transfer and is packed with extras. Most of these were made back in 2006 for the DVD premiere, but they are a welcome addition (especially as Ebert and two of the cast members have since died), as is the DVD extras of The Seven Minutes (see my separate review). This one’s going straight into my Top 10 releases of 2016.
The Special Extras in full:
• Intro from John LaZar in which he screams, ‘BVD is finally here on DVD. You know it’s your happening and it freaks you out’.
• Above, Beneath and Beyond the Valley: Meyer’s biographer and various journos discuss his wayward career (which rode the thin line between genius and crazy).
• Look On Up at the Bottom: The Music of the Dolls: My favourite extra explores how Stu Phillips’ score paved the way for women in rock like The Runaways.
• The Best of Beyond: The cast and crew on their favourite lines, breasts and scenes.
• Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder: Signs of the Time, Baby! This short doco looks at the 1960s counter-culture’s dark side.
• Casey & Roxanne – The Love Scene: Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers on their controversial lesbian scenes.
• Screen Tests: Harrison Page and Marcia McBroom and Michael Blodgett (d 2007) and Cynthia Myers (d 2011) perform the same scene.
• Galleries: Behind the Scenes, Cast Portraits, Film Stills, Marketing Materials.
• Roger Ebert commentary (this is hugely entertaining and quite poignant considering Ebert was in grips of papillary thyroid cancer at the time, and had his lower right jaw removed in June 2006, which cost him his voice. Ebert died in 2013).
• Cast commentary with Erica Gavin, John LaZar, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page and Dolly Read.
Posted on January 28, 2016, in Cult classic, Exploitation, Must See, Must-See and tagged 1970s musical satire, Arrow Video, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Blu-ray release, Hollywood satire, Roger Ebert, Russ Meyer, Satire, The Seven Minutes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.