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.
An explosive film about a banned book, a rape, and a trial that tore a town apart!
One of the great extras on Arrow’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Blu-ray release is the world video premiere (on DVD) of Russ Meyer’s The Seven Minutes.
Released in 1971, this Meyer’s second outing with 20th Century Fox, but it was so far removed from the ‘King Leer’s’ trademark big-breasted exploitation style, that it bombed, with even Meyer describing it as ‘piss poor’.
In fact, apart from the odd shot of a secretary in various evocative poses and one violent scene of a young woman’s sexual assault, you’d think you were watching a typical Movie of the Week courtroom drama.
Freely adapted from the 1969 Irving Wallace novel about a fictional obscenity trial, Meyer’s film follows a group of slimy politicians making mileage out of the trial of the son of a wealthy man accused of rape. Having been in possession of the formerly banned 1930s book, The Seven Minutes (which, according to a 1931 study, is said to be the length of time it takes for a woman to reach orgasm during sex), the prosecution tries to convince the jury that the book was the cause behind the young man’s mental state at the time of the violent assault. Meanwhile, defence lawyer Mike Barrett (Wayne Maunder) conducts his own investigation which leads him to an unlikely witness, former screen star Constance Cumberland (Yvonne De Carlo), whose surprising testimony ends up saving the boy and the book’s reputation.
While it certainly fails as a Meyer film, it’s not that bad and reminded me of a typical episode of Columbo, with Maunder’s Mike playing the intrepid amateur sleuth, and Hello, Dolly’s Marianne McAndrew playing his side-kick. The unfolding case is well put together, with some great asides at establishment figures, including corrupt cops, politicians and judges, the church and those annoying decency leagues. It even has a couple of familiar faces besides De Carlo (The Munsters), including a youthful Tom Selleck, who plays the book’s New York publisher, John Carradine as an boozed-up bum, and legendary DJ Wolfman Jack playing himself. Meyer regulars Charles Napier, James Iglehart and Edy Williams (aka Mrs Meyer) also appear, while Stu Phillips (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) supplies the catchy music.
The special feature on this bonus disc is David Del Valle’s 1987 Sinister Image interview with Russ Meyer and former Playboy Playmate Yvette Vickers, recorded at the Century Cable Public Access Studio in Santa Monica. According to Del Valle, a second interview with Meyer ended up being aborted at the last minute when the camera operator, who was born again, walked out in disgust. As for Vickers (who was Miss July 1959 and also appeared in the cult sci-fi Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), well her Hollywood Dream turned truly tragic in the end, when her mummified body was found in her home in 2011, a year after her death from heart failure.
Also included is the trailer, which is edited to exploit the film’s psychosexual thriller potential, and features the distinctive tones of Dick Tufeld (aka The Robot from TV’s Lost in Space).
• For more on Arrow’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Blu-ray release (click here)
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) | Freak me out! Russ Meyer’s demented cult camp classic is unleashed on Blu-ray
From Arrow Video comes Russ Meyer’s cult camp classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in a limited special edition release (3000 copies only) on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 18 January, which will include its usual bevy of bonus features, plus the world video premiere (on DVD) of The Seven Minutes, Meyer’s rarely-seen Hollywood swansong.
When Easy Rider proved offbeat movies could be box-office success, all the major studios scrambled to catch up – including 20th Century Fox who decided to hedge their bets on giving sexploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer the chance for mainstream success. The result was this X-rated musical sex comedy horror about an all-female rock band trying to make it big in Hollywood with the help of their Phil Spector-styled manager, the notorious Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell.
Co-scripted by film critic Roger Ebert, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a merciless satire of Hollywood and the music business, a no-holds-barred psychedelic thrill-ride that gleefully stirs sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, fashion, lesbianism, transvestism and Nazis into one of the most demented and gloriously OTT black comedies ever made.
Arrow’s special edition also includes the rarely seen The Seven Minutes (1971), Russ Meyer’s adaptation of Irving Wallace’s novel about the absurdities of American obscenity laws. Rarely-seen, it became his Hollywood swansong, as his contract was not renewed after poor returns at the box office (mainly due to a lack of tits and ass).
THE ARROW SPECIAL EDITION
• Limited Edition collection of both of Russ Meyer’s Hollywood films (3000 copies)
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
• Standard Definition DVD presentation of The Seven Minutes
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for both films
• Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
• Separate music and effects track for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
• Two commentaries on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls by co-screenwriter Roger Ebert and actors Erica Gavin, John LaZar, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page and Dolly Read
• Sinister Image: Russ Meyer, David Del Valle’s 1987 interview with the director and his former model Yvette Vickers
• Introduction to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls by John LaZar
• Above, Beneath and Beyond the Valley: The making of a musical-horror-sex-comedy
• Look On Up at the Bottom: with composer Stu Phillips and three members of the Carrie Nations discussing the film’s music
• The Best of Beyond: favourite moments selected by cast and crew members
• Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder: Signs of the Time, Baby!, a look at the late 1960s culture that spawned Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
• Casey & Roxanne: The Love Scene, discussed by participants Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers
• Screen tests for Michael Blodgett, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page, Marcia McBroom
• High Definition photo galleries
• Multiple trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring two original artworks
• Booklet featuring new writing on both films by critic Kat Ellinger, Anne Billson’s 1991 interview with Russ Meyer, excerpts from the outraged British critical reaction at the time, and a personal reminiscence by David Del Valle.
Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign | A darkly comic memoir on some of Tinseltown’s forgotten faces
From Universal’s classic monster movies of the 1930s to the fleshpot romps of Russ Meyer in the 1960s, and the European arthouse antics of Fellini and Visconti in the 1970s, cult movies have become part of the fabric of contemporary culture, and we all have fond memories of them.
But what of the actors and actresses you recognise, but whose names you can’t quite remember? We’ve all heard of the King of Horror, Boris Karloff, but can you remember any of the players he starred with in The Mummy, like the exotic Zita Johann or the charming David Manners?
Remember when the late veteran actress Gloria Stuart became the oldest person to be nominated for an Academy Award for Titanic back in 1997? Did you know she worked for Universal in the 1930s (in classics like James Whale’s The Old Dark House), a period which also saw actresses like Gale Sondergaard at their peak before being caught up the McCarthy blacklisting fiasco in the 1950s. Remember her? And what about that great scene in 1978’s Damien: Omen II when Elizabeth Shepherd‘s reporter gets her eyes pecked out by crows. Did you know she was one of Britain’s leading stage actresses in the 1960s. Whatever happened to her?
From writer, historian and one-time agent, David Del Valle comes the darkly comic memoir, Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign, which follows his own personal journey over 25 years, meeting and befriending many of the old-time and obscure players whose dreams of fame and fortune never quite worked out the way they quite intended.
The late, great Vincent Price described Hollywood as one of the most evil cities on the planet, and he had witnessed enough in his lifetime not to kid around – unlike some of his contemporaries, who got burned on their journey through Tinseltown’s stratosphere. Reading Del Valle’s entries, you certainly get the picture – Hollywood is a Hell of a place to make a living.
Some tragic, some suprising, some plain shocking, the stories are many – too many to explore here in detail here. But whether they’re ancient silent movie actors whose only stage in later life are the cocktail parties they host or attend; or big name veteran stars like John Carradine, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price giving their honest take on living in this Hollywood Babylon, survival is the key theme.
One of the saddest must be the tragic story of Johnny Eck, best known as the Half-Boy in 1932’s Freaks. After retiring from acting, Eck turned his hand to art and photography, but was left traumatized following a brutal home invasion. The incident left him housebound and fearful for the rest of his sad life. Then there’s Les Baxter, the undisputed king of Exotica. Baxter was living a lonely life in music exile when Del Valle met him. Depressed over unsuccessfully suing John Williams for lifting some of his music for his ET score, Baxter died before his style of lounge music became cool again.
There’s also some deliciously gossipy entries, including one in which Del Valle describes actress Hermione Baddeley and singer Martha Raye entertaining the patrons of a leather bar in West Hollywood, only for the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder wanting to meet these grand dames. What a sight that would have been.
Del Valle also has some intimate encounters with some truly offbeat heroes. He gets high on gin and joints watching The Loved One with the film’s writer Terry Southern, the cool hipster immortalized on the Sgt Pepper’s album; trips on LSD with Timothy Leary over Charlie Chan movies; and gets a tour of Russ Meyer’s home, filled with memorabilia from his saucy sex films, including a giant bra.
It all makes for some revealing reading. And, despite the odd typo, I couldn’t put it down as each chapter offered a glimpse into the private lives of an actor, actress, writer, director, musician or muse who have given cinephiles everywhere such joy and excitement over the past 70 years. Less salacious than Kenneth Anger’s infamous trash bible Hollywood Babylon, but no less gossipy, Del Valle’s memoir is a truly touching portrait of the people that were very much a part of old Hollywood. Thankfully, Del Valle has given these fading characters their proper dues, making them shine for us film fans once more.