Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The WTF Movie Files: POOR PRETTY EDDIE (1975)

Also known as BLACK VENGEANCE, REDNECK COUNTY and HEARTBREAK MOTEL, this 1975 southern fried, exploitation melodrama is quite a find. A bizarre, eye popping and jaw dropping northerner-in-the-wrong-part-of-the-south flick that makes DELIVERANCE look like a tourism video.

Broadway actress Leslie Uggams plays a famous singer named Liz Wetherly who decides to take a break from the stress of showbiz by getting into her Rolls Royce alone and driving south for a rest. Unfortunately her car breaks down at the wrong service station where Ted Cassedy (Lurch from The Addams Family) can take a look under the hood. The service station is also a motel/bar run by a good ol' boy/Elvis wannabe named Eddie Collins (Michael Christensen) whose wide smile and manners hide a sinister and brutal nature. Lurch can't have Liz's car fixed until the next morning, so she is forced to stay in one of the cabins (sound familiar?) Eddie, starstruck by Liz's unexpected appearance in his next of the woods, is more than happy to give her the best cabin in the place, the one with air conditioning! He tells her it's normally a $1.50 extra, but he waves it because of her celebrity.

This doesn't sit well with Bertha (Shelly Winters) the co-owner of the establishment and Eddie's delusional, drama-queen paramour, who had a vague show business past. She takes an immediate disliking to the black star who has no choice but to make herself at home in redneck central. Despite Eddie's aw-shucks, eager to please manner, he is really a twisted psychotic with a desire for Liz's mind and body and a penchant for sexual assault.

Poor Leslie Uggams goes through alot of mental and physical anguish and terror in this picture, including more than one rape--one such horrific scene has Liz being sexually compromised and the slow motion events are intercut with the locals snickering at the sight of two dogs having sex!

POOR PRETTY EDDIE plays like a cross between a 1970s rape revenge pic and a Tennessee Williams saga on LSD. What on the surface looks like a typical gritty grindhouse sleaze epic is a movie with some fairly impressive artistic ambitions and qualities. Stunningly photographed by David Worth and complimented by solid editing by Frank Mazzola and Worth, this film has a real hypnotic and startling style to it, highlighted by an inspired and transgressive script credited to B.W. Sandefir, reportedly based on the Jean Genet play THE BALCONY. The dialogue in the film is strangely comical. The cast is equally good too, with exceptional performances by everyone including supporting turns by Slim Pickens (as a horn dog sheriff) and Dub Taylor (as a potbellied degenerate who relishes' Liz's torturous ordeal.)

Within the extensive litter of exploitation cinema of the 1960s and 70s, there are certain standouts that defy the seedy expectations and elements of the genres involved. This film falls into that category as a strange, trippy but worthwhile story of delusion and human horror.

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