Rudy Schwartz's Reviews

I spent a small part of my childhood in Southern Louisiana, and even at eight years of age I suspected that something was askew, to put it mildly. In the late 1960s, my family lived in Baker, a stagnant crotch of a town immediately north of Baton Rouge. The chemical industry prospers in Louisiana, and the stretch of despair between New Orleans and Baton Rouge has been called "Cancer Alley," due to its unusually high rates of sickness. In those days, Baker was distinguished by its drinking water, which literally reeked of sulphur when it came out of the tap. It had a nauseating, rotten egg aroma, and my parents had to boil it on the stove to get it to a state where we could drink it without triggering a gag reflex. Better yet, the region is home to extremist religious nuts, virulent racism, and a political climate that rivals Illinois and Zimbabwe for unmitigated sleaze.

This is my personal frame of reference for the bayou country, and it probably enhances my enthusiasm for Monster and the Stripper, a film I've basked in on at least a half dozen occasions. It's one of those protuberant landmarks in exploitation cinema that delegates mere perfection to the dust bin, with its tasseled pobucker skanks, insane bulldada dialogue, bad haircuts, and hilariously naive references to 60s psychedelia. It is a masterpiece, belonging near the summit of any badfilm pyramid, written and directed by Ron Ormond, producer of numerous white trash gems from the late 1940s until his conversion to Christianity in the late 60s. Ron worked with his wife June, a former singer and dancer who he met in the 1930s while doing his magic act on the vaudeville circuit. His most noted effort is probably Mesa of Lost Women, but for my money, Monster and the Stripper is his Citizen Kane, La Strada, and Blood Freak rolled up into one delicious little dayglo yellow Moon Pie.

Ron plays Nemo, a strip club owner and drug trafficker with sunglasses, a Moe Howard haircut, and sport coats that would win sneers at a Porter Wagoner fan club reunion. He cooly auditions a parade of cajun strippers while his goons are downstairs dumping the contents of a spitoon into the gullet of Marty, a toothless hillbilly freak on Nemo's payroll who has pocketed 60 grand of Nemo's profits in a Slidell, Louisiana bank account. Slidell, you may recall, was recently in the news for the murder of a woman who showed up at a Ku Klux Klan rally, then tried to opt out of an initiation ceremony. It's also known as the place where Jayne Mansfield was nearly decapitated in a car accident. Screw Switzerland or The Bahamas. People in Ron Ormond movies drive to Slidell for their banking needs.

Nemo's drug and prostitution racket does not go unnoticed by a local cop, who loiters around during rehearsals and shares this priceless conversation with one of Nemo's garçons:

How's it going?

Same old grind. Wife had an operation a couple of weeks ago. Goin' much better now though. This morning the kid fell down and broke his doggone elbow.

Who's the chick?

Ah, some idiot dame tryin' to break into this rat race they call show business.

One of Nemo's goons, a guy who looks like Chuck Woolery from The Love Connection, shows Nemo a newspaper story about a mysterious swamp creature that has been killing off hillbillies and leaving their entrails for the crocodiles to slurp out of the muck. One of Nemo's premiere dancers excitedly describes how, if the swamp creature could be captured and brought back to the club, it could rip off her clothes onstage after which she would presumably shoot boiled eggs or commemorative snow globes out of her vagina. Nemo is immediately sold on the idea, so he sends Chuck Woolery and a couple of rednecks out into the swamp to fetch the monster and bring him back to the French Quarter for a big stage show. One of these rednecks is named "Stud," and looks a little like James Coco, and the other is sort of a Paul Lynde/Jethro Burns hybrid with a yachting cap. The swamp monster is played by rockabilly obscurity Sleepy LaBeef, made up to resemble the love child of Richard Kiel in Eegah and Andre the Giant, had Phil Spector been available to donate sperm.

With Ron Ormond's son Tim as their tour guide, they eventually snare LaBeef, but not before lots of suspenseful campfire chat, punctuated by the disembowelment of James Coco and the second redneck having his arm ripped from the socket, then slapped across his head a few times for good measure.

Along the way there are also furnishings "graciously provided by Harvey's Department Store," Nemo's head getting squashed like a honeydew, a 70 year old stripper, plus an absolutely gonad stomping rendition of Dance of the Hours, performed by The Mulcays, a husband and wife harmonica duo who also appeared in a couple of other Ormond films. If you comb the fifty cent bins at any decent vinyl store, you'll be likely to turn up at least one Mulcays LP, and trust me, they rarely disappoint, given a few mimosas, a bag of Cheetos, and good company.

Shortly after Monster was released, the Ormonds had a near death experience in a plane wreck and converted to fundamentalist Christianity. They went on to produce a couple of bat shit crazy Christian scare films, which are worth a viewing, but which don't quite meet the standard set by Monster and the Stripper. This is one of those rare films in which Divine would have merely blended in like Norman Fell in a Rat Pack movie. I can't recommend it more highly.

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