SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
Kung-Fu Cheerleaders JUST SAY NO!
By Nick Cato
1981 was not only a good time for slasher flicks…it seemed every week there was some kind of DEATH WISH rip-off or kung fu movie being released (at least here in New York City). Enter LOVELY BUT DEADLY, a film with an amazing exploitation poster (see above) and to my delight, a PG rating (I was only thirteen at the time, and Staten Island’s (now defunct) Fox Twin Theater wasn’t crazy about letting under-age kids into R-rated films). So, knowing I’d be able to get in without offering some older teenagers popcorn if they bought my ticket (for whatever reason I attended this one solo), I headed to a Saturday afternoon showing.
The trashy goodness beings with an oddly-filmed beach party and a 007-sounding rock soundtrack during the opening credits, then we’re introduced to beautiful star Lucinda Dooling, who previously had a tiny role in the 1979 comedy classic 1941, then later appeared on a few TV shows, most notably on a 1983 episode of THREE’S COMPANY. In LOVELY BUT DEADLY, she plays Mary Ann Lovette, but her friends (and enemies) call her Lovely (get it? Get it??). The aforementioned opening beach party is the type that only seems to happen in low-budget films. One guy (who had been smoking more weed than Cheech & Chong in all of their films combined) finds his way to the ocean and ends up drowning. It turns out the dude is Lovely’s brother…and before you can say “BOO!” Lovely decides to make every drug dealer in her high school pay.
The first murder is the best in the film. Lovely accepts an offer to hang out at some video stud’s apartment (which looks more like a local cable TV station after being ransacked) and she learns his nickname is Captain Magic, a dealer who even has his own special brand of pot on the market (known as ‘Elephant’). Using her sexy left-over 70s red jumpsuit to seduce him, Lovely manages to pin the Captain’s hands behind his back as she dumps his entire stock of dope down his throat. Come on folks…PG-rated cinema doesn’t get more exciting than this!
The film then slows a bit as Lovely befriends some dorky dude who she takes home to meet her parents and aunt. The audience began yelling things such as “What the F…?” when this guy drives Lovely’s parents to the airport only a few minutes after meeting them. We’re never told why. And this isn’t the only head-scratching, out-of-place sequence in the film.
The next thing you know Lovely is sucking face with some guy in a rock band for what seems like twenty minutes (of course making out means they’re now boyfriend and girlfriend). Then the film abruptly cuts to two guys coming into Lovely’s high school: apparently word somehow got out that there’s an anti-drug vigilante at large. She manages to take care of them in one of the most unconvincing fight sequences I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through in a cinema (added laughs come from another one of Lovely’s dorky male friends who takes a beating from the two thugs before she straightens them out).
The HANDS DOWN best sequence involves a cheerleader who goes after Lovely for hitting on her drug-dealer boyfriend. As soon as the cat fight begins, the cheerleader’s buddies show up to help pummel Lovely. BUT…Lovely’s friends from karate class happen to arrive in the nick of time for an all-out, horrendously choreographed locker room throw-down that had the mainly male crowd at the Fox Twin shouting in teenage delight (and surprisingly there’s a quick flash of boobies that somehow made it past the 1981 MPAA censor board). I remember this because I am a guy.
As if this wasn’t enough, Lovely is later invited to a massive party at the cheerleader’s boyfriend’s pad, where she makes out with him before stealing some of his stash THEN having another fight with the cheerleader, this time using food as their weapons (keep in mind ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) was still fresh in every movie producer’s mind at this time). Before long an old drug dealer named Honest Charley shows up and eventually invites Lovely to visit his mansion. MISTAKE! Charley finds out Lovely has been killing all his drug dealers and he keeps her captive by a boat yard (why he doesn’t just whack her is anyone’s guess).
In one unforgettable sequence, Honest Charley has his two goons murder the cheerleader’s boyfriend, thinking he was trying to take over his drug business. They stuff him into a cardboard refrigerator box and cook him to death by inserting a steam hose through a hole in the side. Why this film didn’t win an Oscar for Best Screenplay is a tragedy of the highest sorts.
In the spectacular mess of an ending, Lovely escapes when one of Charley’s goons tries to do the horizontal mambo with her. She steals a boat that quickly runs out of gas but for some reason the guys chasing her collide and die. An epic dock-battle ensues as soon as Lovely makes it back to land. She faces Charley and his gang of thugs with her posse of kung-fu high school girls (who again show up in the nick of time). While I’m making this sound much more epic than it actually looks on screen, you have to give director David Sheldon credit for not letting the film’s budget influence his ambition.
The crowd groaned during the post-conclusion when Lovely learns her musician boyfriend had been supporting the school drug dealers to help get his band established. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
Along the ride there are appearances from a who’s who of cult movie and TV personalities, including SEINFELD’s Richard Herd, John Randolph from SERPICO (1973), Pamela Jean Bryant from H.O.T.S. (1979), Irwin Keyes from THE WARRIORS (1979), Mary Beth McDonough from MORTUARY (1983) and Wendell Wright from THE HOWLING (1981), just to name a few.
Some have called LOVELY BUT DEADLY a remake of the 1973 Pam Grier classic COFFY, and although it’s similar it’s nowhere near as good. But if you like cheesy fight sequences, hysterical dialogue, and cute babes kicking the crud out of each other, you may just enjoy this forgotten action offering.
I know I did.
© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato