Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Female Bunch

Sucker Bunch

The Female Bunch
USA 1971 Directed by Al Adamson
Severin Blu Ray Zone A

Warning: Some spoilers I guess but,
you know, it’s an Al Adamson movie!

Last year I talked about ‘Blu Ray boutique label extraordinaire’ Severin’s labour of love boxed set, Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection, when I reviewed the accompanying new documentary film, Blood And Flesh - The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson (review is right here). Well, it’s finally time for me to crack open this, sadly out of print, box set of thirty two Adamson feature films with the first movie in the set (doubled up on a disc with the aforementioned documentary)... The Female Bunch. For the record, I’m going to review all of these movies in the order that they’ve been put together in the set (as opposed to both the release date order and, indeed, the production order... which is also an entirely different and more fluid thing).

The film starts off with the following warning from Severin: The Female Bunch was scanned and restored from several faded 35mm release prints of varying physical condition. The negative is believed lost. Every effort was made to use the least damaged sections of each print to ensure the best possible image quality throughout.

And they’re probably right to do that because, although it’s a nice, clean transfer, it looks like it’s in terrible shape but, frankly, with a film like this, that quality kind of adds to the whole grindhouse charm of the thing. When Tarantino and Rodriguez did their Grindhouse double bill movie, they decided to add a distressed look to their movies... here Severin get the effect for free, from the various prints actually having suffered from a heck of a lot of wear and tear. What they don’t do is give you a word of warning about how bad the movie is but, that’s okay, I was kind of expecting it anyway and, you know, it’s kind of a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie anyway.

The film starts of with a man and a woman in an open top car driving along a desert road, pursued by a bunch of women on horses (yeah, that’ll be The Female Bunch then) and a gal shooting at them from a light aircraft. Their tyres get shot out and they make a run for it, finding a cave to hide in but not before the guy is shot, receiving an energy sapping wound just below one of his shoulders. The girl removes his shirt to get a look at the wound and screws it up into a disposable bundle. She then takes off her shirt to wrap around him which, to be fair, is what all the young ladies in these kinds of movies seem get around to doing anyway. Might as well get it out there early, I guess.

Anyway, as she stands in the cave in her underwear, the guy asks her “How did you get involved in this mess?” Which is a phrase that suddenly loops around on the soundtrack about six times as the camera zooms in on her face. After almost a minute of this, maybe, I kinda got the idea that this is a framing device and indicates a flash back as the girl, Sandy (played by Nesa Renet) lapses into voice over and tells how a string of hard luck and a failed romance with a night club singer played by Don Epperson ended up with her being discovered by her friend Libby (played by Adamson’s long standing muse Regina Carrol), half passed out on her bed after taking a bunch of pills in an effort to kill herself.

So Libby does what any good pal would do... she takes her blindfolded to a ranch in the hills so she can take an initiation test of being buried in a coffin, so her half psychotic friends, The Female Bunch, can take her on as one of their own... a bunch of women who live in freedom on their ‘no men allowed’ ranch , living off the drug money that their boss, Grace (played by Jennifer Bishop) uses for their expenses. Frankly, these are an antagonistic and unsympathetic bunch and just why the heck Libby hangs out with them is anybody’s guess. And there they live at their ranch, terrorising a local Mexican while, at the same time, tripping over to the border most nights to party it up at the local Mexican bar and having ‘sexual relations’ with various guys (asides from their man-hating boss, who prefers the lady flesh).

It’s here that one of the girls gets it on with one of the film’s two, very well known actors. Russ Tamblyn plays Bill, who is given a map to how to get to the ranch and this particular girl’s room so they can get it on again later in the week. However, with Grace’s ‘no men allowed’ policy, when the two are caught, The Female Bunch rough up Tamblyn and brand his forehead with a cross.

I’d just like to say that, for a lady who has a ‘no men allowed’ on the ranch policy, it seems somewhat strange that she has a stable hand/drug stash security guy who lives on the ranch with them, in the guise of Lon Chaney Jr in the last film he ever shot. Not the last film he was in that was released (that would be Adamson’s Dracula VS Frankenstein, which I reviewed quite a while ago here) but the last film he actually shot, six months after that one (he died in 1973). This makes no sense of the ‘no men’ policy whatsoever, of course, because the last time I checked, Lon Chaney Jr was definitely a man but, oh well, artistic licence I guess. It’s a sad performance because he has a raspy voice and that’s because of the radiation treatment he was having for his throat cancer. Of course, after hearing an anecdote from one of the crew on an accompanying extra about how the film was shot in a ‘Dry State’ and how he would have to go out every day to another county to bring back Chaney Jr’s quart of vodka that he drank every day, I can’t but help think that the excessive amounts of alcohol may also have something to do with how his voice sounds in this one but... yeah, throat cancer and it’s very sad.

Grace maybe starts to question Chaney Jr’s ‘definitely a man’ status too at some point because, after he hassles her for sex once too often, she hits him on the head with a hammer and has a horse drag him into the desert to die. Then she goes on a bit of a killing spree because, Mr. Tamblyn is understandably upset with having a big cross branded onto his forehead. He gets a friend to drop him at the ranch (the same guy who is shot at the start of the movie and inspires this whole extended flashback of a story) and tries to ‘revenge rape’ Grace. For his trouble he gets a pitchfork in the back and his friend, when he comes to pick him up, gets tied up and left in a barn while the girls decide what to do with him.

Then, with almost no foreshadowing whatsoever, Sandy decides to leave the group of psychotic ladies, releases him and they do a runner, finally catching up to the story and ending the flashback, leading into the last five minutes of the movie which I won’t spoil here for you but which features the return of another character from earlier in the film in a kind of ‘deus ex machina’ rescue moment.

And the film is pretty interesting. There’s lots of naked boobage revealing a variety of different nipple types (if that’s what you’re into) and a bizarre propensity by the director, I felt, to shoot everyone just a bit too close up. There’s lots of rolling around in the hay and, even though it’s certainly not as explicit as most modern movies, it does feel genuinely grubby and sleazy as the movie plays out. The tone of it is a little like watching Russ Meyer’s revered classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (reviewed by me here) but with a lot more women and, somehow it's a lot less better shot. Also, I’ve complained that the art of using a zoom lens properly is something which has really gone out of style in modern motion pictures. Let me assure you though, if more directors used a zoom lens as often and as badly as Al Adamson does in this picture, then its no wonder people would want to bury the technique.

There are some bizarre things in here that are fair;y questionable. One of the girls shoots another up with heroine (or something stronger), for example and then, instead of it dulling her senses, they have trippy lesbian sex. I know it must be trippy because the director uses one of those lenses (I’ll call it a fly’s eye lens because I don’t know what I’m talking about) where the girls are in the same image in little shots combined all around the screen. So, yeah, it’s trippy and wild, man.

Another thing of note and, alas, ridicule is the ‘day for night’ sequences when the girls visit the Mexican saloon. Much as I hate those filters, I have to say that the second time they go to the place it seems like the film crew just forgot to put the filters on the camera. Oh no, wait... they did for that shot, but not for that shot... no it’s gone again. Night and day change pretty quickly in Mexico it seems (every few seconds in some cases).

The soundtrack on the film, by a guy called Jaime Mendoza-Nava, is not very good. It plays like a bad, mid-sixties American Western score and, for all I know, it might well have been one. But it does add to the bizarre atmosphere of the flick in some way... just not in a way to effectively raise the level of the imagery, is my take home from that.

Something of note is that the majority of the film was shot two years before it was released, in the Summer/Fall of 1969, at the infamous Spahn Ranch. So, yeah, it was while the Manson Family were occupying it and there’s a chilling story on an accompanying extra by one of the film crew about, well, a very lucky escape they think they possibly had with the young ladies who killed Sharon Tate.  Pretty heavy stuff. One interesting piece of trivia from one of the actresses, Leslie McRay, on a bonus feature, is that she was actually the poster girl for the iconic shot of a girl with a lizard superimposed onto her for one of the many posters for Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (movie reviewed here). I always assumed it was Florinda Bolkan who was on that poster but, no, it was this young lady... so that’s an interesting bit of trivia I’ve never been able to pick up from anywhere else.

All in all I’d have to say that, while I found a lot to ridicule in The Female Bunch, I did have a pretty good time with it and it certainly won’t be the last time I watch this one. I can only recommend this wonderful set and I’m so glad I talked myself into investing the cash. That’s one down, 31 left to go.

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