Monday, May 3, 2010

Help Wanted, Female (1968)

Directed by John Hayes
Starring Sebastian Gregory and several long-gone starlets
Unrated
USA

"I did have the desire to....skin her alive."

Help Wanted, Female, is such a raw, primitive film that you'd assume it was made by some regional nutjob from Nowheresville with a few extra bucks and a head full of greasy bad ideas. Shockingly, director John Hayes was already a decade - and one Academy Award nomination (!) - into his career when he created this bruising bit of no-budget sexploitation. Therefore, this head-spinning roughie is ugly and weird on purpose, like Yngwie Malmsteen playing a Black Flag tune, or Baudelaire writing dirty limericks.

Like everything else in the 60's, Help Wanted Female is a cautionary tale, one that warns cocky middle-aged men to stay away from both ugly hookers and massive doses of LSD. Check and check, Mr. Hayes!


Jo Jo, a groovy chick in granny glasses and a zebra-print mini-dress, runs into some shlub in a parking lot somewhere, while she drags an armful of books around. They get to yapping, and she offers him a ride home. He takes it, and the next thing you know, she's back at his pad, making sweet late-60's love to him.


But after he falls into a deep and satisfying post-coital slumber, Jo Jo rummages through his stuff, pocketing his watch and the contents of his wallet before attempting to skulk off into the night.


Unfortunately, she drops one of her books on the way out, waking the fella. He gets wise to her hoodwink and blocks the door, preventing her from escaping. But little does he know, this chick's a karate expert! Jo Jo kung-fu's him in the back of the skull and lays a bunch of extra haymakers on him to make sure he stays down for awhile. Then she scoops up her ill-begotten loot and splits.


Jo Jo  heads over to some warehouse (it's supposed to be her apartment, I think) where Luana, a very hard-looking blonde, smokes and dances clumsily to some choppy cha-cha tune blaring away on a hi-fi.  Apparently, the two are roommates, and mug-faced Luana is a hooker. Jo Jo grouses about how she wants the two of 'em to escape somewhere far away from Johns and suckers, but Luana scoffs at her and bails.


Luana visits her trick, Mr. Gregory (Sebastian Gregory), a goofball with a pipe and a robe and a space-age bachelor pad. They haggle over her price for awhile, and then she sucks on his fingers. It's pretty gross.


While she slobbers on his digits, he calls her a "brat bitch", which may be a term of endearment between these two weirdoes. Eventually, Luana dances for him - fully clothed and just as awkwardly as she did back at her place - while he pops LSD-soaked sugarcubes like they were...well, like something that wasn't laced with a powerful hallucinogen. She does an endless striptease and then Mr. Gregory tells her - via flashback - about his old girlfriend, Barbara. One night while they were frolicking near the fireplace, he burned his hand, and Babs really dug it. She figured out rather quickly that pain was her thing, and encouraged Mr. Gregory to slash her in the guts with a knife. Which he does. And then he fucks her, while she's still bleeding.


 Back in the present, Mr. G and Luana build a fort with the bed sheets, and he starts riffing to her about some of his other sex n' violence romps. Like the time he and Barbara picked up a fledgling actress-slash-hitchhiker named Tina and convinced her to come home with them so that they could shoot some publicity stills for her.


They pretend to shoot the photos, and once they've got Tina naked, Barbara stabs her in the belly, and she staggers around the apartment, bleeding to death. And then she runs herself a bath, for some reason. And then the dude slashes her throat. RIP Tina. They bury her somewhere and decide to lay low for awhile. Gregory worries that they'll get caught, but Barbara assures them that their neighbor is too busy watching porno loops on his 8mm projector to pay any attention to their killing spree.


Later on that evening, for no good reason, Mr. Gregory uses a plastic bag and a belt to suffocate/strangle Barbara. Then he dresses up her corpse and takes it to the beach, Weekend at Bernie's style. Then he brings her home and...well, it looks like he carves her up and eats her. Luana doesn't believe any of this garbage. Well, not until she starts snooping around his kitchen and finds some nasty, Dahmer-esque surprises in the fridge. She calls Jo Jo at her karate school, but she's no help whatsoever. Luana manages to clock him in the head and make her escape, but for long?

Naturally, Mr. Gregory shows up at Jo Jo and Wanda's weird apartment/empty storage facility looking for revenge, and three battle it out. Meanwhile, the cops show up at Mr. Gregory's - Wanda tipped them off to his recent foray into murder, mutilation, and cannibalism - but they find nothing out of the ordinary. So, what the fuck just happened here? Was it all a hallucination? And if it was, just who was hallucinating? Mr. Gregory? Luana? The audience? Hard to say. The climax is all double-jointed strippers and balloons getting popped and guys getting stabbed. And then they pull the old it-was-all-a-dream gag on us. Curses!


Alright, so the ending is a cheap rip-off, Luana is decidedly un-pretty, and even in its most coherent moments, Help Wanted Female is senseless. Still, this is balls-out 60's gutter-trash filmmaking, full of wrong-headed notions, histrionic over-acting, weird characters, blood, sex, madness, and gratuitous kung-fu. Of the three female leads, Jo Jo and Barbara (no one except for Gregory is identified, so it's anybody's guess who's who in this mess) are both suitably fetching, so two out of three ain't bad, and Sebastian Gregory is perfect as the middle-aged perv in way over his head. Forcefully sleazy and hilariously overwrought, Help Wanted Female is well worth seeking out, a grubby little gem from the golden days of low-rent grindhouse garbage.

Help Wanted Female is available from Something Weird Video.

- Ken McIntyre

2 comments:

  1. Sounds great!! I love that stuff ;D

    (tho I hate the 'it was all a dream' stuff. Its such a cop-out. You can't just void out all that debauchery!!)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know. The dream bit was a bummer, but everything leading up to it was full-tilt gonzo.

    ReplyDelete

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