Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
SATAN IN HIGH HEELS (1962)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
“They all went where the heat was hottest!” read the tagline for 1962s fabulously trashy musical/comedy/noir/sex/drama SATAN IN HIGH HEELS. For the early Sixties, this really was pretty hot stuff, although it’s surprising just how entertaining this grindhouse classic truly is. Chock full of wild and steamy situations and hateful dialogue and (gasp) good acting, this one screams to be rediscovered by someone like Quentin Tarantino, and rereleased upon an unsuspecting public.
Our story opens on a cut-rate carnival, Stacey Kane is a burlesque dancer played by the pneumatic Meg Myles (COOGAN’S BLUFF-1968, and she had roles on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, ALL MY CHILDREN, and THE GUIDING LIGHT—quite the soap opera diva). Stacey lethargically bumps and grinds in front of a leering crowd of men, thrusting out her torpedoes. She returns to her trailer to find her no-good drug dealer ex-boyfriend lurking, after getting out of prison. He tells her how he’s given up the dope just for her, and he has nine hundred dollars a magazine paid him for “a piece about junkies,” plus he has a taxi waiting to take them to New York. Being the sweetheart she is, Stacey promptly steals the money as well as his cab and leaves him high and dry.
Once in New York, she seduces the guy in the seat next to her on the plane, and he gets her an audition at a nightclub called Pepe’s, owned by, who else, “Pepe”—played by Grayson Hall, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in 1964’s NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, but is probably better known as Dr. Julia Hoffman on DARK SHADOWS. Here, as Pepe, she’s a predatory lesbian (was there any other kind in 1962?) and she gives Stacey the once-over, then the job, as a singer at her fancy night club after her torch song audition. Hall plays Pepe as a butch, bossy-pants wearing men’s suits and chain smoking. And who is that answering the phone at the club and accompanying on piano, but blond and handsome Paul, played in fey/gay mode by Del Tenney, who stopped acting and produced/directed exploitation greats I EAT YOUR SKIN and THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (both 1964). After Stacey’s audition, an onlooker, Arnold Kenyon, played by Mike Keene (Dr. Norman Prescott on SEA HUNT) asks if Stacey is available later that day. She replies she is available “all day . . . and all night.” Kenyon is the owner of the club and has an odd relationship with manager Pepe. With no place to stay, what’s a predatory lesbian to do but offer Stacey her own apartment to live in, and Stacey is willing and able to shack up with her Sapphic supervisor. So let the flirting and innuendo begin! Pepe says, “Sleep’s a waste of time.”
Arnold ditches his wife, under the spell of Stacey Kane, but even though she has a fling with him, she’s much more interested in his son and heir, Larry, played by scrawny Robert Yuro (SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST – 1968, and a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart). Enter Stacey’s rival, the gorgeous but terrible actress, Sabrina, sort of playing herself. Sabrina was an awful actress; she wasn’t hired for her thespian skills, but for her 41-inch bustline. She was known as “Britain’s Jayne Mansfield,” and she does look great in her hourglass dresses accompanied by her white greyhounds.
In her debut at Pepe’s, Stacey wears an S&M corset, thigh-high boots, and a riding crop. She proceeds to belt out a wild song while whipping and taunting all the men in the audience. “I’ll beat you, mistreat you, till you quiver and quail. The female of the species, much more deadly than the male!” It’s a crazed scene, dripping with suggestion, and Myles dives into it full force, lashing out at paying customers and gyrating like her carny days are coming back.
Stacey goes after Larry, but Pepe disapproves.
Stacey: I need fresh air . . . and a man.
Pepe: Larry isn’t a man.
Stacey: Then, I’ll make him one.
Arnold dates Stacey, Larry dates Stacey, Pepe exchanges lustful glances with Stacey, and Stacey just loves Stacey, even taking time out to have a nude swim in the woods, which probably raised a few eyebrows in 1962. And then, the drug dealer boyfriend reappears with a switchblade to get what’s owed him. This isn’t gonna end well.
SATAN IN HIGH HEELS is a fun romp as written by John Chapman and Harold Bonnett and briskly directed by Jerald Intrator (STRIPORAMA-1953, ORGY AT LIL’S PLACE-1963). The black and white cinematography is crisp and full of appropriate shadows. Other than the abysmal (but hot) Sabrina, the cast is quite good. Tenney vamps it up in full-on queen mode (Stacey calls him ‘Paullette’), and Grayson Hall is quite wonderful, dropping double entendres faster than she can light her cigarettes.
Pepe: This is my last season. I’m buying a rocking chair and keeping a cat.
Sabrina (enters in low cut gown): Hello, Pepe!
Pepe: I’ve changed my mind. Who wants a cat?
But the acting prize goes to the wonderful Meg Myles, who really puts her all into the role of Stacey Kane. With her long hair displayed in at least ten different hair-dos, she’s sexy, funny, and a sheer delight as the bad girl who uses everybody to further her own career. She makes wicked look like a hell of a lot of fun! Thank you, Ms. Myles!
And the music calls out for a special mention. This is easily one of the best jazz scores ever produced. I even own it on a CD. The be-bop was scored by famed jazz guitarist Mundell Lowe, who also did the scores for BILLY JACK (1971) and Woody Allen’s EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK (1972). Lowe worked with greats like Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Charlie Parker and Carmen McCrae, as well as touring with the Andre Previn Trio. This is one of my favorite scores ever, bouncy be-bop and slinky stripper themes featuring blaring trumpets, xylophones, and great ensemble sax work. For a sample, watch the opening credits here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IktXk2PhwMk. You won’t regret it.
SATAN IN HIGH HEELS is a well-made exploitation melodrama that will make you “quiver and quail.” It’s fast moving and deserves to be better known, as does Meg Myles.
It gets three and a half predatory lesbians out of four.
I got my copy from the good folks at Something Weird Video.
© Copyright 2011 by William D. Carl