It was the first and last word in "riot grrrl" movies, albeit about three decades ahead of its time. And now "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!," the classic black-and-white low-budgeter from that avatar of big-breasted feminism, Russ Meyer, is back in theatrical release, to claim the honor it was denied the first time out.
The prescient "Pussycat" was launched in 1966 to the brickbats of hostile reviewers and dumbfounded drive-in owners, whose operative thinking at the time seemed to be: Faster, distributor! Pull! Pull! Commercially, "it was a loser, absolute loser," recalls Meyer.
Yet its legend has loomed quite larger over time, and the video-fed cultists purring its praises are legion. No less a cineaste than John Waters--writing in his book "Shock Value"--turned ultimate blurb-meister in lauding Meyer's magnum opus as "not only the best movie ever made, but the best movie that ever will be made."
Waters, who counts "Pussycat" as a seminal youthful influence, expresses delight about its re-release to art theaters--"It's great revisionist distribution"--and still holds to his original superlatives: "I think it ages like fine wine. It didn't used to be politically correct, and now it is. I guess it's politically correct for three gay women to kill men that get on their nerves these days."
Actually, of the film's three not-so-kittenish female leads, only one appears definably lesbian, while another has an insatiable appetite for hunky male flesh, and the leader of the pack probably operates on either current. What these three deadly, vacationing go-go dancers all do have in common is a taste for cheap thrills, a lack of any remotely redeeming qualities, a certain voluptuousness and the individual ownership of a fine sports car, meaning that murder easily complements drag-racing on their desert sojourn.
Early in the picture, one of the women, a martial arts expert, kills an innocent man with her bare hands. But you really know just how bad the girls are when, just a few minutes later, flush with depravity, they gas up at a filling station and pull away without waiting for their Blue Chip stamps.
"I came out with a picture for drive-ins called 'Motor Psycho,' with three bad boys; it did a hell of a lot of business in passion pits," says Meyer, 72. "So I told my wife, Eve, 'I've got a great idea, we'll do it with three bad girls .' She said, 'Are you sure it's gonna work?' I said, 'Absolutely.'
"It didn't work. Distributors didn't know what it meant--they didn't understand these women, one of whom appeared to be (pining) for the tough one--and they took it off. Then it was discovered in colleges. And feminist groups found it of interest. . . . "
More than anything--more than Waters' salesmanship, even--Meyer credits the tough sex appeal of Tura Satana (the chief grrrl) for its endurance over the years. (Satana is now married and living in Nevada; Haji appeared in two more Meyer pictures and has continued to act, but Meyer has lost track of blonde Lori Williams.)
Director Keir McFarlane recently paid tribute to the film with a Janet Jackson video, "You Want This," featuring the singer and her female posse in Porsches, tauntingly driving circles around two guys in the desert--an acknowledged homage to "Pussycat."
"Homage? Whatever they want to call it is fine," Meyer says. "Look at Ridley Scott. What is that film he did with the two girls ("Thelma & Louise")?
"He copied the whole scam. It's fine, I appreciate it, it's great. . . . Just don't pilfer the film itself."
There's no nudity--just deep cleavage--and nothing that couldn't be shown on TV, even, in "Pussycat." And Meyer went on to do two studio pictures, "The Seven Minutes" and the Roger Ebert-scripted "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." But most of his subsequent films traded more obviously on his famous predilection for the topless and top-heavy female form.
Meyer hasn't directed a feature since 1979's "Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens." In the meantime, he's kept busy as prestigious film festivals both here and abroad--such as next month's tribute at the National Film Theatre in London--have presented serious retrospectives of his work. Curators as well as critics have elevated Meyer to an auteur pantheon shared by no other directors known primarily for their "soft-core" canon.
And he's been at work for years on an extensive autobiography, "A Clean Breast: The Life and Loves of Russ Meyer" (title and foreword by Ebert), due out next year in an expensive, limited-edition, slip-covered three-volume set.
Meyer does have plans to embark on another feature soon, based on a treatment he and Ebert came up with. "The Bra of God" is planned as the story of a misogynist who dies and accidentally goes to heaven, where he meets up with God's wife, "who's like Margaret Dumont, only she's younger and her breasts are larger." He's sent to Earth for 30 days to reconcile himself to womanhood--only to meet his match in 10 of the deadliest femmes fatale imaginable.
And, per usual, there will be explosive action as well as sex therein?
"Women beating the (expletive) out of men," Meyer says. "And the sex will be my kind of sex: boisterous, voluptuous--no hard-core, of course--and extremely heroic."
* "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" is in limited release at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 848-3500.