“The Lady In Red, 1979”

“I have two arms. Two legs. And I know all the words to ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’.”

The Lady In Red, 1979 (Pamela Sue Martin), New World Pictures

You have a simple farm girl in Polly Franklin (Pamela Sue Martin) singing show-tunes while she’s getting the eggs for transit into town. She stops and does a soft-shoe for the assembled horses and chickens. Her no-nonsense father rants and raves about hell and damnation. While in town, she witnesses a bank robbery. The robbers (one of them, Mary Woronov, playing a moll) take Polly for a short ride as they elude the cops. After a talk with a newspaper man, she discovers she was in the clutches of the Dillinger gang. Some time later, she heads to Chicago and sets about working in textile sweatshops for sleazy Dick Miller (a staple in Roger Corman movies). Miller exploits the workers (this must’ve been before Unions) and Polly leads a revolt. She gets a job as a dance hall girl – 10 cents a dance!

Working her way up in the food chain, she becomes a decent prostitute pulling in good money. The Johns really go for that innocent naive thing, and Sue Martin plays every scene with the youthful zeal that made her extremely popular as Nancy Drew in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, which ran on the ABC Television Network from 1977 to 1979. It was rumored she left the show because of this movie, but the dates don’t quite line up, and most official explanations cite “creative differences” as the main reason for her departure. She hits the sheets with a mysterious hit man named Turk (Robert Forster), which gives her the idea to spend more time sidling up to the Mob. Polly’s an angler, and much sharper than most women who resort to worse measures to get through the days in the incredibly corrupt cesspool of Chicago in the Prohibition era.

She spends some time in jail where she has to deal with monstrous matron Nancy (Porky’s “Tallywhacker Inspector”) Parsons. The movie is a kaleidoscope of genre and exploitation films; gangland, prostitution, women-in-prison movies. The violence is truly graphic and bloody. In fact, this is one of the more violent movies I’ve seen, and it seems to have made that way on purpose. The Lady in Red is not a movie you’re going to find in a multiplex. More likely, the drive-in circuit. It’s more a tent-pole show, moving from town to town and making money. Sandwiched between all of Polly’s hi-jinks is her love affair with famed gangster John H. Dillinger (Robert Conrad). They make a cute couple, but Conrad isn’t in the movie enough, nor do I think he was intended to be. This is the girl’s story, not his. He’s a mystery to Polly. He never tells her who he is, but everybody else seems to figure it out. The movie is based on a footnote in crime history. Imagine seeing the bloody aftermath of the notorious shootout. Dillinger, riddled with bullet and a woman in a red dress at his side as he dies. This was John Sayles’ central premise when he was mandated by Corman to write the movie.  Who is this girl?

Louise Fletcher’s duplicitious Anna Sage (working through a lot of early childhood pain, I gather) drops the dime to Hoover’s FBI task force on Polly’s relationship with Dillinger. The Feds move in at the Biograph Theater where Dillinger and the little lady take in a movie. Sage “makes” Dillinger and the Feds plug him full of lead and leave him a bloody mess in front of the marquee. This isn’t how the story actually unfolds from what I’ve read. In reality, shots were fired upon his exit, and Dillinger gave chase through a side alley and was shot in the back, severing his spinal cord. In the movie, a crowd of amused spectators dabs napkins and handkerchiefs into his blood. The Press has it all wrong, concocting a narrative that she was the woman who betrayed him. She orchestrates a little payback, and in the process takes up Dillinger’s bank-robbing work. Director Lewis Teague shot the movie in 20 days with a budget of under a half a million dollars. He would go on to direct Alligator, Cujo, Cat’s Eye, and the Romancing the Stone sequel, The Jewel of the Nile.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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Vintage Cable Box: The Slumber Party Massacre, 1982

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“All of you are very pretty. I love you. It takes a lot of love for a person to…  do this. You know you want it. You’ll like it.”

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The Slumber Party Massacre, 1982 (Michele Michaels), New World Pictures

I’m going to have to get analytical now.  I knew this day would come, where I would have to do a write-up of Slumber Party Massacre, taking into account the effect of slasher films on the market and then how this movie impacted slasher films moving forward.  If you read descriptions of the movie on other pages, they will, more often than not, point to Amy Jones, the director, and Rita Mae Brown, the writer as they attempted to deconstruct the subgenre and provide a parody of the material in it’s place.  While the movie succeeds in aping the formula, a very thick tongue is planted firmly in-cheek, but only for those who can appreciate it.

We start with the bold red titles, and the sound of organs not out-of-place in a Vincent Price movie.  Mom and Dad are off on a vacation, or something, leaving Trish (Michele Michaels) in charge of the house, so she decides to throw a party (or a “slumber” party, as the case may be – according to my research, slumber parties usually involve pizza and lesbian experimentation, but I can’t be sure).  Meanwhile, a lunatic (who uses a power drill) is on the loose, killing women everywhere he goes.  I wonder what brand of drill he uses.  We get fleeting glimpses of the horrible man as he watches Trish and her friends.  He seriously looks like a sex offender.  He has the glazed-over look of a man who recently had a vasectomy.

After basketball, there is an extended shower sequence with all the girls, and Jones spends an impressive amount of time lingering on naked female flesh (more than in any other slasher movie I’ve seen).  I suspect Jones and Brown set out to indict the male-dominated industry of slasher movies, or possibly call our attention to the amount of violence perpetrated against women in most movies.  Poor Brinke Stevens (Haunting Fear), who won’t be going to the party, gets locked inside the school and has to run from our driller-killer while her friends remain blissfully ignorant and on their way to the coolest slumber party ever!  I’m kidding, of course.  It’s really kind of boring.

Par for the course, we have a couple of fake-out gags, where the purpose seems to be to frighten young women with ridiculous situations.  A hand comes out of nowhere to frighten a female pedestrian.  A drill breaks through a front door because another young lady is installing a peep-hole (come on!).  A shadowy figure walks slowly down stairs and frightens another young woman.  All of these gags occur within minutes.  What’s the point of that?  To show that women are easily horrified?  I get it.  As a matter of fact, I’m easily horrified.  In fact, I’m horrified right now writing this.  Aaagh!  I will say Jones has a great photographer’s eye.  The compositions and colors of interior shots are deep, dark, and rich with atmospheric lighting, but when accompanied by the Vincent Price organ, the whole thing seems incredibly silly.

First order of business is weed.  The girls smoke up and talk about sex, and who the sluttiest girl is, and how to get to first base, and how their menstrual cycles line up, or something like that.  Honestly, I wasn’t paying attention in between fake-out gags (we’re up to two hundred by this point in the running time).  It’s weird that I like the idea of the movie more than the actual movie.  We have extremely dark night shots (I’ve always preferred that realistic lighting to this new-fangled modern lighting where you can see everything in any given exterior shot), sounds of dogs barking in the background, some heavy breathing and POV shots.  The Slumber Party Massacre has all the trappings of a great slasher film (great photography, great editing), but Brown’s premise is lost in the thick, choking fog of social commentary, not unlike many movies produced today.  We need more entertainment, less moralizing!

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Poor Brinke!

Second order of business is pizza (no anchovies!).  The pizza guy shows up, in the midst of all the female confessionals and make-overs, but he has bloody holes in his eyes so I’m guessing he won’t be getting a tip.  My favorite bit in the movie has one of the girls eating the pizza while they try to figure out their next move.  A particularly telling scene has a girl collapse to the garage floor and the killer brandishes his extra-long drill bit between his legs.  Brian De Palma would imitate this shot two years later in Body Double, but to much better effect.  The killer cuts the phone line, and off we go!  We’re more than halfway through the movie before these dim-wits get a clue.  I can’t blame the girls, though.  Rita Mae Brown is the true killer of this promising story.  In the end, one of our heroines uses a machete to chop the end off of the killer’s drill-bit, effectively castrating him.  There are some very interesting ideas at play here, but Brown and Jones are more interested in making a bold political statement than in entertaining or scaring their audience, and that’s unfortunate.

Next time, we take a look at the (allegedly) final chapter in the Friday the 13th franchise.  As we know, it doesn’t really work out that way.  Thank you, Corey Feldman!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.