Friday, October 17, 2008

Love Me Deadly (1973): or, A Dead Man is Good to Find

As the 1973 weirdie Love Me Deadly opens, we find blonde big-haired hottie Lindsey Finch (Mary Wilcox) sitting in the back row at a funeral home, dressed in mourning and sporting a FABULOUS black hat-and-veil ensemble. The sumptuousness of her attire leads one to believe she might be the widow here, but once the service is over she pointedly refuses to be escorted up to the coffin to pay her last respects. Once the organ music stops and the chapel is empty, however, she makes her deliberate way up to the front and stares lovingly at the bearded corpse in the open casket. A strange fire burns behind her eyes, and in a moment she leans down, lifts her veil, and plants a passionate kiss on the dead guy's lips! Roll credits!

Yes, Lindsey is the walking definition of "special needs." In addition to her uncontrollable attraction to room-temperature hunks of man-flesh, she's also got some rather serious Daddy issues, as illustrated wonderfully by the sepia-toned credit-sequence flashbacks showing an innocent young Lindsey playing with her rugged father, riding in the car, going fishing, and rolling in the grass (but in a loving and not-at-all creepy way). Clear out the dresser drawers, this girl has a lot of baggage to unpack.

(That credit sequence, by the way, rolls out under an AMAZING title song a la Goldfinger and other James Bond spy ballads. Check out some of these lyrics:

"Love me deadly...kiss me deadly
This very special love can never be...
Touch me deadly...hold me deadly...
Look in my eyes and tell me what you see..."

They just don't write 'em like that anymore, folks. Also, because the font color used in the credits is yellow and presumably wouldn't show up well against the sepia-tones of the father-daughter flashback, every time text is on the screen the memory scene goes TECHNICOLOR, totally jarring you out of the "innocent nostalgia" vibe it's meant to foster. But I digress.)

Love Me Dead

Once director Jacques LaCerte's credit fades away, we're suddenly at a groovy cocktail party where pastel blue-gowned Lindsey is playing quarters with the guests. (The height of her hair here is directly proportional to the depth of her plunging neckline.) She trades some flirtation with buff feather-haired muscle-boy Wade (Christopher Stone) before going upstairs to toss back some uppers with bourbon.

Wade follows, and before you know it the two are rasslin' on the bed; but when Lindsey tries to call it off in mid-dry hump, things get a little rapey and she ends up having to claw his face like a cat to get Wade to take no for an answer. Afterward she childishly cradles a teddy bear, which we see via helpful sepia flashback was a gift from her father in one of those idyllic montages. Oh, if only she could find a man like Dad!

Or a dead one. Either's good.

On the other, seedier side of town, mortician Fred (Timothy Scott, sporting a completely convincing Peter Tork hairdo) is trolling for some action. He passes up a flamingly gay man-ho for a more butch, angry looking hustler, and quickly begins drilling him...for information ! The ingenue admits he doesn't live around there and has no family--not the best move in his line of work, it seems to me. Fred suggests they drive to "his office" to do the deed, for which the hustler demands the princely sum of $25. He drives a HARD BARGAIN, IYKWIM...

Love is Blind, and so is Lust, Apparently

Meanwhile Lindsey's also trolling for action, reading the obituaries and circling likely prospects. Soon she's back at the chapel, where she strides up to the corpse and starts warming him with her love...when suddenly his false nose wrinkles under her caresses, because it's built entirely of mortician's wax! Her mojo gone, she flees the chapel only to run into the waiting arms of Lyle Waggoner! As the corpse's brother, Lyle is only too keen to talk about the bang-up job the morticians did considering how bad the car crash was, but Lindsey is still freaking and runs off into the night.

Back at Fred's office, things take a turn for the even more icky, as he convinces the hustler to lie naked on the table (he tells the young guy it's a vet's office) and soon has the hapless man-whore strapped down, naked and totally vulnerable. It a disturbing and frankly hard-to-watch scene, Fred meticulously starts pumping embalming fluid into the struggling, screaming young man's arm, then opens up his neck to stick in the exit needle! Most of this is done from a mid-range shot showing the hustler side-on while Fred works around him, highlighting Fred's detachment as well as his victim's helplessness. (There are a few splattery close-ups as Fred cuts into the boy's neck, though, which should make you wince.) It's a chilling, unflinching scene, and Fred's emotionless non-reactions to the hustler's suffering left me feeling a bit sullied, I don't mind telling you.

The next day Lindsey follows Lyle the the funeral, and later back to the art gallery he owns. As she looks at him longingly, his image is superimposed on sepia shots of her father, letting us know exactly where she's at in her attraction to this living, breathing bohunkus. LaCerte never leaves you wondering about HER latent psychology, that's for sure--it's all RIGHT THERE.

He's NOT making coffee...

Later she heads to yet another funeral, hoping to blow off some steam with a little post-mortem makeout. Unfortunately Fred's there too, and blows her cover--he recognizes her from a previous funeral, and forcing his way into her car lays a surprising proposition on her:

"The word is NECROPHILIA. We're quite normal people, just with different passions. You're not alone. In our group we have several members who participate...I can notify you if you care to join us."

After another scene with Fred finding a female hooker to embalm (a scene that I think intentionally parallels Lindsey's search for thrills in a much darker way), Lindsey makes one more attempt at a normal sex life with Wade, only to fail tragically at the goodnight kiss. Weighed down by her desires, she sends him away and heads out to the nightly meeting of the Dead Joy Fuck Club.

Lindsey creeps into the seemingly abandoned mortuary, and we get some rather nice creepy hand-held shots as she tip-toes through the shadows, discovers an empty coffin in the chapel (much to her disappointment), and walks slowly through the display room where more empty caskets yawn at her like sleepy Gabbon Vipers. As she gets closer to Fred's "workroom" she hears groans and screams emanating from behind the locked metal door, but not to be dissuaded she presses on through--to discover a very cult-like tableau of naked necrophiliac swingers standing around a partially dissected corpse! Chalk another one up for Jacques LaCerte on the "disturbing image" tally.

"Sorry, Freshman Comp is three doors down to the left."

Lindsey freaks and runs out, but bare-chested Fred runs after her to calm her down. "What did you expect?" he asks, but then sees a solution. "A novice can't be expected to appreciate total involvment...Perhaps I can arrange a more private time in the future." Warning her to keep their secret or else, Fred lets the orgy-shocked Lindsey go back home.

Resolving once again to put her corpse-loving ways behind her, Lindsey cons Wade into taking her to Lyle's art gallery so that she can get a load of his Father-Figure Fitness. In a pretty amazing sequence that plays out entirely in dumb show under a jaunty, comical score, Lyle mimes interest in Lindsey, Wade tries to keep himself between them, but eventually gets shoved out and moves on to more receptive chicks. Before you know it they're double-dating at a Japanese steakhouse! Then the jaunty music gives way to a more plaintive, romantic tune, and we get (still in dumb show) a falling in-love montage! Lyle and Lindsey run through the rain, play in a stream, walk through the park, obviously now the happy couple--and not a single line of dialogue has been exchanged!

It's a strange narrative choice, as if LaCerte wanted to get through this crap as quickly as possible in order to get to the next bout of deceased-molestation, and with Waggoner's presence it can't help but remind our more worldly-wise (i.e. old) viewers of some of the actor's comedy routines from his years on the Carol Burnett Show. However, the scene's jarring incongruity made it more than a little charming to me--it's a scene from a different, nicer, goofier movie, thrown in at no extra charge.

Next thing you know Lindsey and Lyle are engaged to be married, but her longing gaze after a hearse that passes them at a streetside cafe lets you know she's not yet over her necro-leaning feelings. This is driven home further when, after more montagery and an AMAZING K-TEL FIRESIDE LOVEMAKING ATTEMPT that ends in EPIC FAIL, Lyle intones in exasperation, "What the hell do you want me to do, Lindsey?" I'm thinking the answer is "Drop dead," Lyle!

"Waiter! Another button for my shirt, please!"

At this low point in her relationship Fred calls again to tell her he's got a blind (and deaf, and dumb, and motionless) date for her at the mortuary. She immediately heads down to the chapel, but as CURSED FATE would have it, Wade sees her go by on the street and follows her. You just know THAT'S not going to end well.

Fred is true to his word, delivering Lindsey to a private room where her slightly dumpy but irresistably DEAD lover awaits. She strips off and starts going at it, a look of joy on her face we haven't seen before, unless you count the innocent joy of the little girl in sepia tone playing with her daddy. Eeew.

Unfortunately Lyle has made his way into the Sanctum Moritorium, and stops in the embalming room to ask the sullen worker from the movie's opening if he's seen Lindsey go by. Irritated at being bothered while he's aspirating a corpse, the sullen dude yanks out the 2-foot-long embalming needle and STABS WADE IN THE GUT WITH IT, spilling intestines on the floor and interrupting Lindsey once again in flagrante de muerto. She rushes out, sees Wade dead in a pool of his own digestive system, and screams. Then, in a weird, borderline surreal transition, Wade's arms begin to move, coming together to cross at the wrists, which then fades to a shot of him being hoisted into a vertical position while the naked, now clearly coven-like group of necro-orgiasts dance around him, stripping his clothes off in slow-motion and double-exposure. It's very creepy and strange, and then...Lindsey wakes up! Wait, WHAT?

Before we can figure out whether the whole thing was a nightmare or just the part after Wade's sticking, Lyle's back and proposing to Lindsey, and in the VERY NEXT EDIT (almost a jump-cut, really), she's in a bride's gown and saying "I do!" LaCerte CLEARLY has no patience for the romantic part of the story--he's got deader fish to fry. More emotive music and then the honeymoon, where Lindsey's frigidity puts the ixnay on the onsummation-cay. "You KNEW I had difficulties!" she sobs, to which Lyle replies, "But Lindsey...WE. ARE. MARRIED!" Flustered, Lyle goes to sleep on the couch and presumably masturbate like a wild monkey, leaving Lindsey alone and dreaming of Dad.

My Death with the Thrill Kill Cult

The last third of the movie resolves into a melodramatic soap-opera of Lindsey struggling to keep Lyle from finding out her terrible secret, while simultaneously fighting against her own dark desires and her increasingly unstable mental state. We get more emotive music, another Benny Hill-style dumb show at the gallery, and terribly sappy overacting from both Lyle and Lindsey. When the previously unseen housekeeper (with one of the top 5 WORST Irish accents ever committed to film) tells Lyle that Lindsey spends an unusual amount of time at her father's grave, the worried husband goes to investigate--and finds his wife, her hair in pigtails, singing childish nursery rhymes while dancing around the tombstone, promising to be a "good girl"! Which I'm sure is NOT sexy, even for someone as deprived as Lyle.

Then, when Lindsey begs off a trip to Lyle's mother's, but seems strangely insistent that HE go, he decides to double back and trail her, which of course leads him right to the mortuary and the dark dealings going on within.

After losing some steam and hilarity in the soap opera segment, Love Me Deadly finishes strong with another cult meeting in the embalming room, Lindsey now a fully participating member, mounting a corpse while her fellow necros stand around chanting and holding candles. Lyle busts in on the scene, bellows in disbelief (his best bit of acting in the whole flick) and is stabbed to death by Fred as Lindsey watches from her post-mortem perch.


Back at her own house Fred informs her, "I've brought Alex home...he's across the hall in his room. And I've prepared him for you...he'll be yours now, for always, and forever." Ick.

But LaCerte isnt' done yet, as a drugged-up Lindsey starts having more disturbing flashbacks about her father's death, leading to an almost nonsensical but still strangely effective finale that left me feeling more than a little squicked out. (Suffice to say it turns out Lindsey has her reasons for being so screwed up.) The final image, with cherub-faced Lindsey snuggling up happily under the covers with the corpse of her husband, FINALLY able to consummate the marriage--well, it's got some power, I have to admit.

Love Me Deadly is not particularly well-made, as far as it goes--the cinematography is pedestrian, the acting sub-daytime TV levels even for the 70s, and the sometimes hilariously cheesy score is so overbearing that it often does more of the dramatic heavy lifting than the actors. And there are plot holes a-plenty. The necro cult is never fully explored as more than a tossed-off plot device, although the rituals do account for many of the movie's genuine chills. Not one police officer EVER shows his face, despite multiple murders, corpse desecrations, and the disappearance of well-known and popular characters who would definitely be missed. (Wade is presented as quite the ladies' man and party animal, but once he's gone no one ever mentions him again--especially strange since he was one of the main characters in the first 2/3rds of the flick.)

Still, the movie managed to shock me with that hard-to-watch initial torture/murder scene in the mortuary, and Lindsey's whole psychology, from the sexual dysfunction to necrophiliac desires to her inability to let go of her daddy's memory infuses the whole thing with an odd sense of wrongness and discomfort, which makes the frankly badly-edited ending sequence (even the soundtracks between cuts don't line up) still able to pack an emotional punch. At the end of the movie I was cringing more than I was laughing, which in this case is definitely a complement.

So while I can't fully recommend Love Me Deadly as a lost masterpiece, I still think it's worth seeing. The cheesiness and strange comedic sequences are entertaining in their own right, and if you find necrophilia and Daddy worship the slightest bit creepy, then chances are it'll get under your skin more than a little. So 2 thumbs for this surprisingly sick little flick from the 70s. Watch it with someone you love--who's dead.

Note: I watched an antique format-sourced version of the flick, and a new uncut DVD has just been released which chances are has even more necro-ickiness and nudity. So if that's the kind of thing you're into, you're in luck!



canada said...

"Oh, if only she could find a man like Dad!...Or a dead one. Either's good."

I laughed til I cried at those lines. I still can't read 'em without falling apart. Too f*cking funny!

Tenebrous Kate said...

Oh man--this sounds like Must-See Stuff, Vicar! I've had this movie on my radar for a while, but traumatic exposure to the works of Jörg Buttgereit has had me doing the Approach-Avoid boogie around this flick since I discovered its existence. If this movie is as creepy-comedic as you've described it, I suspect it borders on genius. Thanks for another superb write-up, sir!

Fred said...

I'm surprised she wasn't wearing a merry widow when she was banging Lyle's corpse at the end.

By the way, I wonder if Lyle discussed this film when he was backstage at the Carol Burnett show when Harvey Korman was mentioning his work on Blazing Saddles and Tim Conway was discussing the Apple Dumpling Gang. I would pay to see Ken Berry's face when watching his pal Lyle in this one!

jenn said...

I'm surprised I've never heard of this one before, then again maybe not? lol

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