This is Peyton Place on acid. Every scene collides with the next with irrepressible energy and way too on-the-nose dialogue. The whole movie is a non-stop quote fest, every other line written for maximum comic effect and played with an admirably straight face.
Meyer took a look at Valley of the Dolls, a 1967 hit adaptation of the Jacqueline Susann best-seller this was ostensibly a sequel to, then sat down with film critic Roger Ebert and wrote a script in three weeks that tore it a new one with relish. Not the least of their accomplishments was to include the Greatest Chat-up Line EverTM as predatory Ashley St Ives fixes sweet Harris in her salivating sights: “You look like a groovy boy, I’d like to strap you on sometime.”
The only way to end such a psychotic rampage through convention was with a mass murder scenario echoing the recent 1969 Manson murders that had shaken Tinsel Town to its core, an additional unpleasant frisson being that real life victim Sharon Tate was the star of the original movie.
The movie is littered with such meta-nature: uber-producer Z-Man is modelled on Phil Spector, while short-fused Randy Black is Muhammed Ali. At the time many were appalled; most critics simply didn’t get the joke, misinterpreting the OTT spoof as simply another wooden hackwork that overstepped the mark.
Not that Meyer could’ve given a damn. He was a self-made DIY sex movie maker who ploughed his own path, making movies cheap enough to to turn sizeable profits. His debut, The Immoral Mr Teas (1959), pretty much created the nudie-cutie genre, while down and dirty motor-psycho movie Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) started to build his reputation as a cult underground artist.
Vixen! (1968) made over $7 million off a $76,000 budget, and that kind of bank made studio heads turn, leading to his somewhat naive hiring for the project, seemingly ignorant of his career being one long finger to the establishment that no studio could tame. Nevertheless, he definitely gave the suits bang for their buck, using backlot studio sets and a no-name cast, squeezing what for them was a low budget, but for a guy used to holding his own camera, a king’s ransom.
It was fitting the Susann estate sued, forcing the studio to rebrand the movie with a new tagline: “This is not a sequel… there has never been anything like it.”
Beyond is a pure Russ Meyer movie in all its glory, loaded to the hilt with fast cutting, excessive nudity, blazing soundtrack, experimental camerawork, bizarro sound effects (Harris’ suicidal fall is to the whoosh of an airplane engine, while a head is sliced off to the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare), a closing po-faced narration that hilariously imposes a moral code on the insane action, sex, drugs, violence, murder, lesbians, hermaphrodites, decapitation, Nazis…
Have I missed anything out? Probably. As Kelly herself swoons in that introductory party: “In a scene like this you get a contact-high!”