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Joe Bob's Drive-In: 'Satan Was a Lady'

By JOE BOB BRIGGS, Drive-In Movie Critic of Grapevine, Texas   |   March 21, 2002 at 3:16 PM   |   Comments

Doris Wishman lives in virtual seclusion down in Coconut Grove, Fla., where she's been frankly amazed by her growing reputation over the past 20 years as the greatest female exploitation director in history.

"I don't really like my movies," she says. "Some of those actors were so ugly."

She won't tell anybody her age, so we just say it's "70-plus," but when she does make a rare appearance, it's like Bettie Page or Tura Satana popping up on the cult radar screen. That's why "Satan Was a Lady" is such an event.

Doris's first movie in two decades has all her trademark quirkiness, and it's reminiscent of the "roughies" she made in the sixties, like "Bad Girls Go to Hell" and "Another Day, Another Man." The difference this time is that it's the WOMAN who's rough, a stripper and part-time dominatrix who goes through men like a wheat thresher, all for the sake of a fur coat and the illusion of freedom.

It's hard to even identify the genre of this film. You could call it a combination of all 28 of Wishman's movies.

In her first period, roughly 1959 to 1963, she made nudist-camp flicks called "nudie cuties." She hadn't intended to be a movie director, but her husband died, leaving her his film distribution company, and to make money, she took a crash course in production and made the only kind of film that was legally allowed to show nudity at the time.

Her two cult favorites from this period are "Nude on the Moon," which takes place on a planet of big-busted nekkid babes with goofy antennae in their hair, and "Blaze Starr Goes Nudist," which is the famous Baltimore stripper's only screen appearance.

Her second phase was 1964 to 1970, the era of the "roughies," which were sort of gritty sexual film-noir stories about innocent girls corrupted by the city and the vicious men who live there.

Her most famous movies, though, come from the 1970s, which we'll call "the chesties." She made two films starring Chesty Morgan, the notorious Polish stripper with the two enormous talents. "Double Agent 73" (the 73 referring, of course, to Chesty's bra size) and "Deadly Weapons," in which Harry Reems gets smothered to death between her chest, are such outrageous standards on the drive-in circuit that they've been used as midnight-movie programmers for years.

Doris was just starting her fourth phase, horror flicks, when disaster struck. A disgruntled employee destroyed the negative of her 1983 movie, "A Night To Dismember," when Movielab went out of business, and she had no insurance. She spent an entire year trying to piece together what footage remained into a releasable movie, but she lost everything and went to the brink of bankruptcy.

"Satan Was a Lady," all these years later, is her feisty return to filmmaking.

Fortunately, she found a natural sadist in lead actress Honey Lauren, who opens the movie by viciously whipping a businessman -- and enjoying it -- then blackmailing him for $25,000 by threatening to show the pictures to his wife. It's all part of her plan to escape her dead-end life at the strip club where her scuzzy boyfriend performs loopy lounge songs between acts, but she also has some serious self-esteem problems.

After slipping a mickey into a guy's drink and rolling him, she is stunned by the sleazy bar owner's remark that ANOTHER dancer is prettier.

She soons starts taking out her frustrations with a stiletto, but not before she unexpectedly falls in love with the son of her blackmail victim. What's a girl with such a complicated life to do?

All of the Wishman elements are here -- the suggestive lesbian subplots, the cutaways to random inanimate objects (she saves money by dubbing dialogue without showing the speaker's face), and, of course, plenty of gratuitous nudity and violence.

If Doris can be said to have a theme, it's that money is the root of everything -- good AND evil. When she does an actual LOVE STORY in this one, we don't really believe in it until the guy goes and buys the magical fur coat for the no-good woman who has his number. The film also benefits from the performance of Glyn Styler as the spacey loutish boyfriend in a shaggy-dog haircut and shades. Styler is a lounge singer in New Orleans who does such straight-ahead you-hurt-me wailing that you don't know whether he's serious or he's doing some kind of Loudon Wainwright parody of lounge music. At any rate, it's hard NOT to watch him, and it adds that special Wishman "I don't believe what I'm seeing here" touch.

I loved this movie, but apparently Honey Lauren didn't. She took it off her resume! Shame on you, gal.

Five dead bodies. Twenty-five breasts. Topless cat-mask bloody-pulp whipping. Shop-window caressing. Face-slashing. Face-slapping. Head-bashing. Chest-stabbing. Ashtray to the head. Not one, but TWO torch songs.

Drive-In Academy Award nominations for Glyn Styler, as the creepdog dice-playing musician boyfriend in a bowl haircut; Edge, as the blackmailed businessman; Carlos Velazquez as the scuzzball topless owner whose philosophy is "Why hide it?" Hans Lohl, as the moony-eyed fitness trainer who likes long walks in the park and says "It feels right coming home and finding you here" and "I just can't get you off my mind"; Laudet Torres, as the mousy secretary with a crush on her boss's blackmailer; Honey Lauren, as the home-wrecking golddigger who says "You don't know me! I go with me for money!" and, of course, Doris Wishman, for being Doris.

Four stars. And don't miss the CD version, which includes backstage scenes of Doris DIRECTING the whipping scene.

Joe Bob says check it out.

"Satan Was a Lady" website: satanwasalady.com.

(To reach Joe Bob, go to joebob-briggs.com or email him at JoeBob@upi.com. Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, TX 75221.)

Topics: Bettie Page
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