(Written by Chris Hibberd)
Hey, kids! Do you like fast cars? Even faster women? Come in and give your eyeballs 83 retina burning minutes of the ride of their life! The story in its barest form gives us three erotic dancers on a killing spree: a proto Thelma and Louise with more bosom if you will. Kidnap, Moolah, and Murder are the order of the day. Who could refuse?
Russ Meyer made the whole movie on a bare bones budget of roughly $45,000. Shot in black and white, mainly for financial reasons, this adds to and defines the look, and gives crispness and clarity to the action within it. You can’t look away.
Walter Schenk adds stylish cinematography for such a low budget film, and as with all his films, Meyer shot quickly and economically. A former US Army cameraman, he learnt to work fast. This caused problems with lead actress Tura Satana, who felt he was a little too stiff (no pun intended). Legend says that when he asked her to refrain from carnal activities during the shoot, she responded with a reply that was to the point and involved several four letter words.
Of the four main roles in the film:
- Varla (Tura Satana)
- Rosie (Haji)
- Billie (Lori Williams)
- Linda (Susan Bernard)
The two who are at odds with each other the most in terms of look and moral compass are the best within it. Varla, the leader of these ladies on the lam is feisty, fight-ready, and ferocious. Satana’s own life prior to this role gave her plenty of experience to draw on. A gang leader, go-go dancer by the age of 15 before becoming an actress, she lived a life and then some. Meyer said of Satana: “She knew how to handle herself. Don’t fuck with her! And if you have to fuck her, do it well! She might turn on you!” Her acting and her own self became blurred during shooting and she was, by contemporary accounts rough on Susan Bernard. (In Pussycat Varla kidnaps, goads and borderline tortures Susan, and both cast and crew claim that Bernard’s visible terror was not acting.)
Susan Bernard’s life to that point was markedly different to Satana’s, as her parents came from within the Hollywood machine. Her father was photographer Bruno Bernard, and her mother, actress/director Ruth Brand, was overly protective of her then 17-year-old daughter on set which caused frictions with both Meyer and Satana. And yet, in keeping with Meyer’s interests, both professional and personal, Bernard would later go on to become the first Jewish Playboy Playmate.
Of the 40 plus films that Meyer directed, Pussycat failed to turn a profit on its initial release and was derided by critics. Normally Meyer took a kicking from the critics whilst counting his box office takings, and with a choice of money and celebratory words, he knew which he preferred. 1963 was probably his best year in terms of the quality of the films he made because as well as Pussycat he made Mudhoney and Motorpsycho! Post-1966 with the exception of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the films became parodies of a pneumatic parody. A space race to the planet breast! As this attributed quote to him puts it: “I always had a tremendous interest in big boobs.” If nothing else, you can’t fault his honesty and candour.
Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! is one of his better films as its later reassessment by later generations of film fans and directors testifies to the film and its creator’s cultural influence has been far and wide in the fields of film and music.
- Tarantino thanks Meyer in the credits of Death Proof (the influence is blatant, from the set up to Jordan Ladd’s t-shirt) and was mooted to be interested in directing a remake of the film.
- It’s been sampled by White Zombie on their album La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume 1.
- Referenced by The Simpsons in an Itchy and Scratchy episode Foster Pussycat Kill! Kill! and paid homage to in several music videos too.
- It even has had a reappraisal as a feminist action film which given Meyer’s likely specialist Mastermind subject, is maybe a slightly optimistic reading of his intentions.
Even if you detest Meyer and his brand of nudie cutie films, this is one well worth your time as it’s a wise-cracking, fast-paced, B-Movie blockbuster. You won’t be disappointed.