Russ Meyer’s career has distinct eras highlighted by shifts in style evident in movies like The Immoral Mr. Teas, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill!, and Vixen. He also took a detour through the studio system with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls before making one of the wildest sexploitation movies of the 70s with Supervixens.
There are plenty of themes and ideas prevalent throughout Meyer’s career that set his work apart from that of his contemporaries – be it the rapid fire editing, the over the top dialogue, or (of course) the distinct female figures. None of it would be worth a damn though without Meyer’s underlying sense of fun. No matter what violent or exploitative stuff was unfolding on screen, nothing seemed especially heavy. Meyer had a way of making some pretty heinous action palatable. It’s sort of like a cartoon effect; it’s much funnier to see an anvil fall on a coyote in a Road Runner cartoon than it would be in real life.* Nothing seemed too real in a Russ Meyer film.
Nothing until Supervixens that is. Supervixens starts out in familiar territory with a top heavy acid-tongued beauty berating her husband over the phone while he works at a service station run by Martin Bormann. In fact, most of the movie plays out like “Russ Meyer’s Greatest Hits” reel. The names of the women should be a tip off as they all appeared in earlier Meyer films. Angel, Haji, Cherry, Eula, Lorna, and Vixen are all here but with “Super-” tacked on the front. This is Russ Meyer turned up to eleven.
That being said, it should be expected that violence be ramped up from his earlier movies. What isn’t expected though is just how ugly and brutal it suddenly turns. It sort of feels like you’re laughing along with someone at work and having a good time when he says something mildly offensive out of nowhere. It might not be enough to declare him the next Hitler, but you’re still a little less comfortable laughing along. You’re also wondering to yourself, “Wait, weren’t we just having fun a second ago?”
Here’s how it happened: Clint Ramsey was having a typically cartoonish fight with SuperAngel when a neighbor calls police officer Harry Sledge. More cartoonish sex and violence ensues that leaves Clint ousted and Harry hellbent on murdering SuperAngel. Again, this isn’t something all that unexpected, but when he gets ahold of her in the bathroom, he stomps the shit out of her. And not in a funny way. It’s like wandering out of a Benny Hill world and into a Charles Manson world. She dies in a slow, ugly way. In fact, after he stomps her to a bloody pulp, she attempts to crawl out of the tub, only to have Harry throw a plugged in radio into the water, electrocuting her and putting her out of her misery for good.
I don’t have a problem with brutal or explicit movies, but this scene feels like a sucker punch here. Even more astounding, after this murder, we switch right back to the familiar Russ Meyer territory. Yeah, it’s still over the top, but in a much more comfortable manner. Taken all together, it makes this particular scene all the more unsettling – like interrupting Saturday morning cartoons with that dick nailing scene from Schramm. Okay, maybe not that bad…
This whole thing sets up an interesting dynamic though. Meyer was an experienced filmmaker by this point and, by most accounts, a control freak. I don’t think much in his movies happened by accident. It’s also worth mentioning that deviant characters in his movie are usually punished aptly. The bathtub scene fits because SuperAngel is a bitch of the highest order. Harry is no peach though, so I would expect his death at the end to be at least equally as brutal. Instead, he gets blown up Wile E. Coyote style by his own stick of dynamite. In fact, Meyer goes out of his way to make this death as cartoonish and painless as possible. He even tops it off with Shari Eubanks exclaiming “Leaping Lizards!” and “That’s All Folks!” It seems like Meyer went to great pains to make sure that Harry’s death wasn’t too hard on the audience.
Is Harry Sledge less deserving of a brutal demise, or was SuperVixen’s discourse on hatred and violence the important message here? It should be noted that neither of the protagonists have Harry’s blood on their hands.
This moment always seemed out of place to me. It’s intense and effective but uncharacteristic for the director, even in the context of one of his most absurd movies. This isn’t a condemnation though. Supervixens! ranks right up with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls as my favorite Russ Meyer film. This scene forces you to sit up and take notice, even if the movie switches gears again right after. The whole thing is curious enough to stimulate some pretty interesting conversation.
For as long as this stays up, the tub scene is about 30 minutes into this video:
* – I’m making assumption here. I’ve never actually seen this happen in real life.