DVD REVIEW – THE FILMS OF WALT DAVIS

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The phrase “I have the weirdest boner” may have come from “Community,” but it may as well have been invented to describe the films of Walt Davis.  Throughout the early ‘70s, Davis concocted some of the most unique sex films of the era, infusing them with comedy or graphic, H.G. Lewis-level violence (and sometimes both) and even shooting the sex sequences themselves in a way that almost aggressively prevents the audience from enjoying them on a carnal level.

Few of his films have been regularly available, though several titles that bear his name were released by Something Weird over the years.  (THE DANISH CONNECTION, a softcore film Davis directed as part of John Holmes’ Johnny Wadd series, also holds a place in cult film footnotedom.)  Vinegar Syndrome seeks to remedy that with their latest release, a two-disc triple bill of Walt Davis madness that should bring his name out of the obscurity ether and into the minds of sexploitation fans everywhere.

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The first feature is 1972’s EVIL COME, EVIL GO, arguably the most well-known film on the set thanks to an earlier release via Something Weird as part of a triple-bill.  EVIL COME tells the tale of Sister Sarah Jane, a wandering Evangelist played to the hilt by Cleo O’Hara, on a quest to “rid this world of pleasurable sex and evil men.”

The film opens with a biblical quote about false prophets, quickly establishing that any tongue is firmly in cheek when not penetrating a lower orifice.  The film’s great theme song establishes her vision and the film’s portrayal of her with lyrics like “Sarah Jane, Sarah Jane/Sister Sarah, you’re insane/But you always pull it off and fly away,” and that’s exactly what she does.

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We first see her scoping out her prey at a seedy pool hall, taking a guy back to a motel room for some sexy times.   The man gloats about getting it 4-5 times a week from different women (not too surprising, as his standards are clearly not that high) and talking proudly about his three marriages with no divorces.

Needless to say, after some ugly sex and hymn singing, the man ends up on the wrong side of Sister Sarah’s switchblade as trippy music that sounds an awful lot like the background track from CASE STUDY: LSD plays.  It’s not as though it’s suspenseful – we’ve already seen the bloody aftermath due to Davis’s odd decision to edit it into earlier footage of Sister Sarah driving – but it’s still suitable bizarre, especially as Sarah continues her hymn singing while writing “God is ‘LOVE’ Not Sex” on the mirror.

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Off to the big city, Sister Sarah hangs out on the corner singing and playing the accordion, spouting off her anti-sex views to anyone who’ll listen.  After attempting to pay for a hot dog with guidance, she meets up with a wealthy young woman named Penny.  Penny explains that she was sent away to live away from her family because she was a lesbian, but it may have also been because Penny’s a pretty dim bulb, and she falls for Sister Sarah’s cult quickly, and becomes a disciple of the “Sisters of Complete Subjugation” after being tied up a bit.

The pair set off on an anti-sex crusade, with Penny agreeing to Sister Sarah to finance her own TV show, and in the meantime, bringing men back to their place for sex and slaughter. Things get complicated when Penny’s ex-lover Junie shows up.  Penny begins questioning the new relationship when it’s revealed that Sister Sarah doesn’t have a solicitation license (!) and everything ends up pretty badly for everyone involved, save for Sister Sarah, who lives up to the theme song’s lyrics.

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EVIL COME, EVIL GO is a bizarre blend of ugly sex and ugly gore, but it’s presented with such a jovial flippancy with odd line readings, over-the-top dialogue and wandering cats that it’s hard to not find it fascinating.  The performance of O’Hara alone is worth the price of admission, as she eviscerates every moment she’s in with a scene-stealing ability that only a micro-budget ‘70s film or Nicolas Cage can provide.  “Them men, with their honey-sweet words and their horny cheating ways,” she spits, and moves EVIL COME from the curiosity column to a genuinely fascinating piece of work.

The second film on the first disc, WIDOW BLUE!, features just as much insanity and unexpected gore.  Opening with a woman leisurely smoking a joint underneath a painting of a man we later establish is her husband (actually Davis himself), the film soon spirals into a blend of perversion that would make even the most hardcore genre fan blush, presented with comic effect so that it never feels unwatchably dire.

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We soon see unhappy couple Nick (Alex Elliott) and Elise (Sandy Dempsey) arguing in bed about not having sex, mostly because Elise wears a terrible wig, a staple of Davis films.  We soon cut to a naked couple actually making love – the husband from the painting and the brother of his wife (Charles Lish).  It’s a surprisingly explicit sequence, though the nude ladies tattooed on Lish’s arms and his complete lack of an erection makes me question his commitment to the sparkle motions.

Back at the depressing homestead, Nick is served an impressively awful breakfast and leaves to stop buy a butcher’s knife at a local hardware store.  Meanwhile, Elise’s lover (pretty boy Rick Cassidy, who resembles “WKRP”’s Gary Sandy) shows up for some mid-morning delight, not minding the wig or her addiction to true detective magazines.

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The unconvincing gay sex scene takes a weird turn when, after the climax, Nick rushes in to stab the hubby in the neck with the knife!  It all turns out to have been a set-up for the now-widow (Eva) Blue to have her brother seduce her husband so they could… justify killing him, I guess?  It’s not really the most well-founded plan, and the group’s tactics are made even more questionable when Eva begins making love with Nick on her husband’s corpse.  Pretty soon her brother joins in as well.  All in good fun!

There’s also an orgy in the living room when John Holmes suddenly shows up with his girlfriend (admittedly, I didn’t recognize Holmes until he took off his pants) and it ends with a shocking twist ending – and then another shocking twist ending!  It’s all ridiculous, and it would have been unwatchable if it weren’t for Davis’s sense of humor, resulting in a movie that seems to have been made with a John Waters-like sense of awareness as to how to deliberately revolt the audience.  His oddball tone is probably why Davis’s films are so unjustly obscure, and also the reason why they’re ripe for rediscovery by an audience looking for something beyond mere body-slapping.

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The package concludes on the second disc with the wild OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL, a 60-minute sex comedy that lacks the random violence of the first two features but more than makes up for it in terms of strangeness.  Opening with a version of the early-century era song, the film allows EVIL COME star O’Hara to take the lead again in a nudity-packed take on SUNSET BOULEVARD in which no initiative whatsoever seems to be taken for the actors in the sex sequences to be realistically aroused.

O’Hara plays delusional aging film star Gaye Ramon, who begins the film lying in bed wearing a wig that would make Divine proud, reading the ad she’s placed in the Hollywood Reporter for acting lessons while casually molesting a banana.  With her smeared lipstick, fruit fetishism, botched teeth and tendency to mumble to herself, she’s established as a crazy person long before she even interacts with another human being, so it’s actually quite surprising that DOLL doesn’t turn into a slaughter fest.

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Her first potential student is the cute young Buck (Billy Lane), who arrives with his girlfriend.  Gaye sends the young woman off and begins “schooling” the boy with interrogating questions like, “Can you eat pussy?”  After his reply (“No, ma’am!  At least not very much.”), he’s encouraged to have his penis measured so Gaye can compare it to her bananas.

She invites Buck to move in, and while he goes off to consider things, a pair of ladies arrive to audition as well.  Their performance of “I Wanna Be Loved By You” is interrupted by a burglar who molests them all while Gaye takes up the song in their stead.  Afterwards, Gaye sends the pair to a bedroom to have themselves photographed by her friend Rodney, who sounds like Paul Lynde.

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There’s some more sex to be had, especially once Buck makes his way back, but I’d be hard-pressed to call any scene in DOLL even remotely “arousing” – it’s more like watching a bunch of friends improvise weird stuff while in various stages of undress.  The best scenes just feature O’Hara talking to herself or writing her memoirs by hitting one key on the typewriter for every sentence, as O’Hara is as amazing to watch as she was in EVIL COME, treating every line as though it’s throbbing manhood waiting to be devoured.  She also has brief flashbacks to her “prime,” in which she wears a better wig and mildly less lipstick.

There are no closing credits – -the movie just ends with Gaye talking on the phone as the title track plays again.  It’s probably for the best, as the opening credits are full of psuedonyms, and Davis’s name is even misspelled “Daviz!”  At barely an hour, DOLL is the swiftest of the three films, and probably the most accessible as well, if only because it doesn’t involve anyone getting covered in fake blood.

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In a 17 minute interview, EVIL COME producer Bob Chinn talks about working with David on the Johnny Wadd softcore film THE DANISH CONNECTION, and how EVIL COME came about thanks to Chinn’s being inspired by NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (!).  His stories about Cleo O’Hara make her seem not too far from the personalities she portrayed in DOLL and EVIL COME, and he talks about cinematographer Manuel  Conde as well.  Chinn makes for a great interview, and I’d love to see his tales of the golden era of sexploitation used more in documentaries of the age.

Trailers for EVIL COME and DOLL are also included (EVIL COME’s claims that it’s “based on the book that shocked the nation,” and your guess is as good as mine as to what that book is), along with four minutes of outtakes from WIDOW BLUE.  While it’s shame that Davis isn’t around to provide a commentary track, as I’d have loved to hear his take on the films, Vinegar Syndrome’s package is still a fantastic piece of work, one that should definitely bring the name of Walt Davis into the minds of at least a fair share of the cult movie subconscious.

@Paul Freitag-Fey


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