Reviewed by Steve Fenton
USA, 1967. D: Joseph Prieto.
Ad-lines: “Guys and Choppers… Rich, Raw, Dirty Shanty Girls! Born Broke, Now She’s Worth a Mint! …A Teen-Age Story for Mature Adults.”
The tramp’s falsely-accused African-American victim’s hysterical plaint in his own defense to her viciously vindictive and utterly baseless allegations of rape: “She lies! She lies!! She lies!!!”
The tramp’s misbegotten drunkard daddy’s plaintive plea to the holy roller on her behalf: “O Lawd! Lawd knows, she’s gotta be saved!”
Way back in 1990, thee myghty Hal Kelly of the seminal Toronto-based cult cinema/pop culture fanzine Trash Compactor lent me his personal VHS copy of this then-virtually-unknown movie (formerly available for a penny shy of $30.00 [US] via mail order out of Whitestone, New York from a guy named Michael Burgujian). I hadn’t seen it again since first watching ST and reviewing it in my long-defunct D.I.Y. Xerox zine Killbaby (#4) that same year. Since this blog’s bossman Dennis C. expressly asked me to do so, I’m re-reviewing the film here at Unpopped all these years later, just for old times’ sake. Basically, this is my now-26-year-old (!!) original KB review kinda sorta as-was, albeit heavily revised/updated/corrected/rewritten and variously added-to/subtracted from. (Coincidentally enough, my son Chaz is about to turn 26 years old this coming February. Man oh man, how time flies!)
Anyway, here goes nothing…
Irredeemable, unrelenting despair and squalor are the rotting carcasses on which this landmark sleaze-buzzard feeds. (Damn! Did I actually write that pretentious bollocks all those years ago?! But I digress…) That’s Sleaze with a capital “S”!
From the opening scratchy frames, showing a rear below-the-waist view of star Eleanor Vaill (hereon top-billed as “Lee Holland”)’s tight-skirted, broad-hipped nether regions – yes indeed, she’s most certainly got “that fire down below”! – you can see that the perspective of this seedily tawdry flick comes straight from the gutter, and is more than content to stay there wallowing around amidst the garbage and soggy ciggy butts till doomsday comes along, if needs be. An extra-jazzed-up version of the hoary evangelical Fundamentalist gospel singalong standard “When the Saints Come Marching In” accompanies this stark, ragged opener, and the same song is repeated umpteen times more on the soundtrack throughout the course of the picture, just to further ram home the obvious if effective ironic contrast. Elsewhere throughout, Frank Linales’ suitably spare experimental-tinged score alternates intermittently between minimalist freeform electric guitar noodlings and frenetic staccato bongo/highhat-and-slapback-bass jazz jams (latter of which, if less-polished, are at times quite reminiscent of certain jazzier compositions by frequent ’50s Roger Corman movie scorers Ronald Stein and Fred Katz).
|"I'm beginning to see things a lot more clear now!" says Pa to Emily in between nips from his pint bottle of cheap rotgut.|
The scene – as per the first half of the title – is a decrepit, way-down-South shanty down out in the boonies of hillbilly central, GA. Here, a holy hellfire ’n’ brimstone evangelist, one Brother Fallow (Bill Rogers), part of a touring religious revival show whose flimsy tent serves as a portable House of the Lord, engages in some spirited bible-thumping (e.g., “The man who is truly saved gives more than lip-service to the Lord – he gives cash!” and “You are putting money into a bank account of salvation!”). This sermonizin’ preacher – most assuredly of the “lay” variety (pun intended) – rails on about the dangers/evils of sin (including, to name only a few, “Dancin’! And drinkin’! And fornicatin’!”), but even a so-called man of God (“I’m only a tool, in His hands…”) is not immune to the primal, animalistic allure of the shanty tramp! Far from it, in fact, as both the opening scenes and the cynically dark humorous twist ending – with the absolute maximum of unsubtle innuendo and double entendre, of course – so tellingly reveal.
Subtly-flared nostrils and licked lips mark Miss Emily (Vaill’s unabashedly sluttish character) as a brazen Jezebel right from the moment that we first met her exaggeratedly hip-swinging along late-night main street, positively basking in the lustful looks of all the menfolk she passes. “When I hear you, I wanna surrender myself to the Spirit – all the way, preacher!” purrs the streetwalkin’ hussy to the sky pilot with a gleam of unmistakable licentiousness in her bloodshot eye (make that both of ’em! It’s a cinch imagining disgraced ex-televangelists/secret adulteratin’ fornicators Jim Baker or Jimmy Swaggart falling for such a thinly-veiled come-on). Vaill, evidently quite the Method actress, really immerses herself in the all-important title role, radiating a cheap, easy carnality well-suited to her character. Emily lives in a festering slum with her disgusting wino father ([“Kenneth Douglas”/Otto Schlessinger] “…that’s a helluva way to speak to Daddy, ya lousy tramp!”), turning desperate tricks whenever and wherever (with whoever) she can in order to eke-out her meagre existence on the very fringes of skid-row, mere inches from getting flushed right down the drain for keeps. Considering the sorry state of her domestic situation, it’s hard not to feel at least some sympathy – however small – for this “fallen woman” whose fall from grace, while presumably largely of her own (un)doing, isn’t entirely her fault, due to all the extenuating circumstances involved; but then, we might well say the same about her “poor, pitiful” abusive papa, who isn’t symbolically surnamed Stryker for nothing and who’s obviously been dealt a pretty shitty lot in life by Fate himself. So who to blame here?! (Never mind all that: just sit back, enjoy the show, and be thankful your own life isn’t anywhere near so sordidly pathetic as theirs are!)
|Sky Pilot - Bill Rogers as Brother Fallow praises God ('Thank you, Lawd! Thank you, Lawd!).|
In ST, the desperate, abject loneliness inherent to the predatory bar-crawling, one-night-stand lifestyle is laid unabashedly bare and totally de-glamourized for the empty lot it actually is. Indeed, sections of this film made for ideal anti-advertisements in favour of practicing safe sex back in the not-so-naughty ’Nineties – approximately around when AIDS was first becoming a major cause for concern in the public consciousness – and the same applies now (if not even more-so, what with all the rampant, irresponsible and self-destructive promiscuity and various mutated super-strains of STD that’re around these days to the nth degree. But I’ll get off my moral high horse right now before I go any deeper into that potentially contentious subject! It’s utter immorality that we’re here for, and that’s assuredly what we get, while safely experiencing its dubious thrill vicariously via the players’ antics).
Seeking to cross-pollinate a couple of then-marketable genres, ST’s producer/co-writer and frequent Mexploitation movie dubbing boss K. Gordon Murray – who is a lo-o-o-onnng way from Santo, Santa Claus and Popoca (a.k.a. “The Aztec Mummy”) here! – along with director Joseph P. Mawra (alias “Joseph Prieto”), stirs a shit-disturbing pack of short-haired bike boys into the gumbo too, just for bad measure and to kick-off all the gratuitous mean-spiritedness. Known as The Rats, these losers rumble into town on their generic mishmash of mostly non-Harley ’sickles, looking for the most part more like a bunch of slumming frat-boys out on a tear rather than a sociopathic gang of chain-swinging ruffians.
|MC leader Savage brings out the animal in Emily...it doesn't take much!|
A real fast ’n’ loose floozy, the immoral – or perhaps just plain amoral (it’s a fine line) – Emily hits on just about anything in pants. When a wholesome boy-next-door type she’s been dancing with gets group-stomped by the bikers, the tramp simply shrugs him off and goes for the badass alpha male pack-leader Savage (Lawrence Tobin) instead. Later that night, Emily’s wannabe Wild One, evidently tired of straddling his hog and wanting something softer to ride on (at least for a little while), contemptuously spits, “You don’t know what fun is, you teasin’ little bitch! Shaddap, an’ PUT OUT!” Whereupon, the biker – not unexpectedly, sorry to say, despite the rather half-hearted knee in the ’nads Emily gives him in self-defense – attempts to ravish (i.e., rape) her; this rather than fork-over the five-spot (“a fin”) that Emily demands right on the barrelhead for her services, which may come easy, but – unlike she herself – certainly aren’t cheap (at least by ’67 prices).
Elsewhere, Daniel (Lewis Galen), a right-minded young black man whose father had been lynched by local Klan members years earlier, has a case of the hots for our shanty tramp but BAD. His wise ol’ Momma – who’s been around the block a few times herself, and knows the score – warns him to steer well clear of such an easy piece as Emily (“You quit starin’ at that shanty tramp!” she slut-shames with extreme prejudice), but Danny-boy nonetheless feels the irrepressible lure of the tainted honey-pot and What’s Inside A Girl; which, in this case, certainly ain’t “sugar and spice and everything nice”! The timely arrival of Daniel at the scene of Emily’s attempted ravishment by the poor man’s Brando saves her honour… or at least whatever tattered shreds of it still remain to her at this supreme low-point in her “wham-bam-no-thank-you-ma’am” existence. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the flightily fickle tramp promptly displays her “gratitude” for Daniel’s selfless act of chivalry in coming to her rescue by taunting him and disrespectfully addressing him as “boy”. Yes indeed, the ST (“Whatever I want, I get!”) is quite the piece o’ work, to say the least! “Damn you, friggin’ shanty tramp!” curses Daniel before entering the lion’s den of Emily’s ferociously feline charms; in fact, even as he falls for them, his aghast facial expression possibly implies that he’d sooner trust a post-coital female praying mantis rather than she. Yet, like a lamb to the slaughter, he nonetheless foolishly snaps for her bait, which she waves under his nose like a carrot before a donkey.
|Pa! exclaims Emily in shocked surprise upon being unexpectedly interrupted by him in Daniel's company.|
Intercut with all this seedy nightlife/lowlife and the bike gang’s subsequent murder of interfering Daniel’s elderly ma (the bastards!), the preacher delivers his endless sermon from the self-righteous, holier-than-thou mount of his pulpit, going at it with as much fervor as the average messianic atheist might nowadays (albeit in the opposite direction), such is his seeming absolute surety that a higher power watches over us from on high. The entire plot unfolds over the course of several hours in a single night. The lack of any daylight scenes whatsoever brings a dismally bleak, claustrophobic edge to the proceedings, as though we’re trapped in some perverted Twilight Zone/purgatory of permanent darkness and unrelenting gloom, amidst nothing but the basest of (in)human nature, with no light at the end of the tunnel nor any silver lining in sight.
After hearing the preacher’s sermon, all filled-up with two kinds of spirit (by no means just the Holy one), Emily’s drunken pissant pops (“You stinkin’ old souse!”), upon returning home to the unhappy hovel – which is literally caked wall-to-wall with grime, much like the movie itself – catches the oft-topless Emily horizontal with her until recently virginal ebony savior Daniel. Thinking on her feet even while lying flat on her back, to protect her now-nonexistent “reputation”, the tramp cries rape, verbally painting the hapless and entirely innocent black youth with the blame as surely as if she was literally tarring-and-feathering him. As a result, having been incited into a racist frenzy by the drunk-as-a-skunk, grief-stricken Mr. Stryker (who fell for his not-so-darling daughter’s duplicitous accusation against Daniel hook, line and sinker, more the fool him), angry local rednecks turn out in droves to run the falsely-accused and fully-framed Daniel to ground prior to stringing him up at first sight, kangaroo court/lynch mob-fashion… if they can get his hands on him after he does a runner through the benighted woods at Emily’s express behest (all the better to inform the posse exactly where he’s lamming it to, of course. With poor Daniel out of the way, her “virtue” [HAH!] will remain intact, at least in her sappy pappy’s inebriated eyes, if no one else’s).
Sheer, undiluted – and decidedly deadly – venom oozes around the edges of Vaill’s every utterance, and her actual acts are even more poisonous still. If indeed actions do speak louder than words, every last one of hers shrieks “DANGER!! STAY AWAY!!!” at the top of their lungs. She turns a simple “Hello” into a lewd commercial pregnant with sexual promise, and seems to wholeheartedly relish all the negative karma she unleashes, as though it’s the sole thing in her worthless, meaningless life which gives it any purpose whatsoever. But, if this was a story about a nice girl rather than a total trollop who makes the nastiest femme fatale in all of film noir look like a rank amateur by comparison, how boring would that be?!
Some wannabe Russ Meyeresque “hip” banter and clever editing add an edgy artiness to the squalid proceedings (that late ’70s Trooper hit “3 Dressed Up as a 9” for some reason comes to mind, most especially in regard to Miss Emily herself). Also working in other such prime ticket-sellers as incest and patricide en route and even including a minor if at the same time key subplot involving moonshine runners, events spiral further and further out-of-control, leading into the tragic closing concatenation. Not unexpectedly considering all that has gone before, the film concludes on a decidedly downbeat note, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, given the overall tone throughout; although, as mentioned above, there is a wry final development which leaves a bittersweet aftertaste in our mouths rather than a totally sour one, but it’s still a decidedly sardonic turn regardless.
|True to form, Emilt casts aspersions on Daniel's manhood, even as she cruelly leads him on sexually.|
Possessing great economy in every sense of the word right across the board, this starkly B&W – fittingly enough, in light of much of its contents – Trans-International Films (TIF) production and sometime Kroger Babb & Associates (KBA)-distributed offering (“She’ll Blow Your Boxoffice Fuse! Whata [sic] Bad Girl!”), SHANTY TRAMP is without doubt one cynical slash of fast-moving, bare-bones exploitation cinema, for sure. It is edited most judiciously and economically (to around about a mere 72-odd minutes in its uncut form) down to just the barest necessities needed to get the job done, and sans any extraneous filler. Its pessimistic depiction of the “spirit” of Man (and Woman) sure doesn’t bode well for humanity’s future. In this seamy worldview direct from the sweaty underbelly down at groin level, poor, decent, dutiful Daniel and his doting mother are among the few cast members who possess any admirable traits (such as compassion, loyalty, moral courage, etc.), leaving the main bulk of the characters just poor – very poor – white trash of the trashiest kind.
Don’t bother looking for poetry, positive messages or other niceties in this steaming hunk of hate from the dirty dark-side of rural Americana. However, if you feel you need a privy glimpse (just for a reminder) at how low you don’t wanna go, ever, SHANTY TRAMP should suit you to a “T”. Just be sure to take a long, hot shower after watching it though, because you wouldn’t want any of its slimy residue sticking with you afterwards. Besides, the dark stain on your soul will be a lot harder to wash out the longer you leave it. If that statement sounds overly hyperbolic – which it is, needless to say – such Carny-style hyperbole seems more than fitting in the context of this kind of outrageous sexploitationer, and this particular example stands as a true high watermark of its ilk in the overflowing toilet tank of slime cinema.
All that aside, the film is an absolute must-see for those of us who are into this sort of thing for the simple morbid fascination of it rather than anything else. As ultra-skeezy ’60s sleaze skinema goes, it really hits all the bases, leaving slimy wet skid-marks in its wake everywhere it touches in-between. So if that sounds like your bag, by all means grab a copy of Something Weird’s DVD-R (it’s also been put out on DVD at some point by Alpha Video). If not, God bless you, brethren. Brother Fallow would be proud of you for not heeding your baser impulses… unlike how he himself does!
NOTES: In other ST news… Be sure to keep a look-out for the various artists vintage compilation vinyl LP – which was subsequently reissued a number of times, including more than once on compact disc – entitled Teen-Age Riot! (Atomic Passion Records). Though it is primarily a collection of J.D. (“juvenile delinquent”)-related R&R tracks and audio movie trailers (“50,000,000 Delinquents Can’t Be Wrong!”), it does contain what is evidently an old radio ad for the present film under review (quotes: “This unusual and abnormal motion picture makes those Swedish movies look like a Sunday school show!” – “From the swamp-infested backwoods of Georgia comes this story of a lust-loving tramp! Born broke, she found a way to make money: she loved them all!”). Immediately following this dramatically-intoned narration comes Betty Dickson’s girlishly sleazy-sweet rendition of the boppin’ ’billy-rocker “Shanty Tramp”, the movie’s title theme (sample lyrics: “I give my love / And all I get is money”), whose music was composed by ST’s credited scorer Frank Linales (in the opening titles to the actual film itself, lyrics are credited to co-scriptwriter Reuben Guberman, but on the original 45 single issued on his self-owned KGM label, K. Gordon Murray actually receives credit for penning the words to the song; possibly that might imply they both chipped-in their two cents’ worth?). In the movie itself, rather than being heard at the outset behind then opening titles as you might expect, the song instead blares from a roadhouse jukebox further into the narrative, while a sparse gaggle of twentysomething “teenagers” hip-frug frantically along to the beat (titillatory C/U’s of girls’ bottoms jiggling in skintight slacks depict the vastly-more-appealing 1960s equivalent of twerking [ugh!]). Though the Teen-Age Riot! collection as a whole is uneven and mostly comparatively unspectacular as such PD (“public domain”) comps go, just so long as you don’t have to shell-out full import price for it, the above-mentioned inclusions and a few notable others make the record (or CD) a worthwhile purchase for both trash cinema and trash music enthusiasts alike. On a note of related trivia, long-gone American lo-fi garage r’n’r combo The Dirty Lovers put out a 7" vinyl 45 rpm EP on Dog Meat Records in 1990 whose title track was entitled “Shanty Tramp”; however, while it is an absolutely kick-arse toon overflowing with raunchy punk snottery and the sleeve’s cut-and-paste graphics incorporate both ST the movie’s title logo and even some of its taglines, other than for those aspects, the high-decibel/treble-to-da-metal song (a blistering 2½-minute blast of rawk which is certainly not a cover version!) is only indirectly related to its namesake by general theme. For an actual cover of the song from the movie – if a considerably raunched-up one – check out Miriam Linna & The A-Bones’ straight-ahead rendition on a 1993 45 single recorded by them on the Giant Claw label; it served as the flipside to another cover of a song from a psychotronic movie, “The World’s Greatest Sinner” (which was originally recorded by Frank Zappa, no less, who composed the score for the 1962 cult flick of the same title starring Timothy Carey).