Friday, July 1, 2016

Glutton for Punishment: Scum of the Earth

by JB
You know, you are really pretty. You should be a model.

We are all interested in bad movies, inexcusable cinema, worse-than-mediocre pictures, and amateur glamour shots, for that is the stuff we use to fill the empty spaces in our souls. You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious, and the titillating—that is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of a band of hooligans and rapscallions. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable soul who survived a screening. I am that miserable soul. The absurdly low budgets, the cheesecake photos, the old-timey misogyny—my friend, we cannot keep these a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. Remember, my friends: terrible movies such as these will affect you in the future!
Once more, the Something Weird Video opening sucked me into its unholy vortex and piqued my interest in a particular film. The montage, found at the start of all Something Weird products, features a middle-aged man yelling at an unseen woman. How could I live my life and NOT see this film? I clearly could not, so I watched the film. Here’s the whole monologue in all of its women-hating, batshit glory:

Mr. Lang
All you kids make me sick! You act like little Miss Muffet, but down inside you're dirty; do you hear me? Dirty! You're greedy and self-centered and think you can get away with anything. You're no better than the girl who sells herself… to a man. You're worse because you're a hypocrite. And now little Miss Muffet is in trouble, and she's all outraged virtue. Well, you listen and you listen well; you're damaged merchandise and this is a fire sale. You walk out of here, and your reputation won't be worth fifteen cents. You'll do as I tell you! Do you hear me? You'll do as I tell you!

I am seriously thinking about memorizing the above monologue and shouting it at teenaged fast-food clerks who offer me substandard service.
The Plot In Brief: Jaded, cynical photographer Harmon Johnson (William Kerwin, using the pseudonym “Thomas Sweetwood”) works for a mob-run pornography racket. Innocent girls are lured in with the promise of big money in exchange for “glamour shots” and “bikini poses.” Once in Johnson’s makeshift studio, the hulking, abusive Ajax (Craig Maudslay Jr.) “takes advantage” of the girls on camera, and the resulting shameful photographs are used to blackmail them into a life of sleaze. Unless the girls pose for more revealing photographs, THEIR PARENTS WILL SEE THE “AJAX PICTURES” AND THEIR REPUTATIONS WILL BE RUINED. Because those dumb girls should NOT have LET themselves be raped, I guess. How embarrassing for THEM.

Johnson clearly finds this life almost as repugnant as we do; it has driven him to alcoholism. Sandy (Sandra Sinclair) is a model whose life has already been ruined. Local mob boss Lang (Lawrence J. Aberwood, using the pseudonym “Lawrence Wood”) offers Sandy a way out of this awful life: “recruit some new girls,” suggests Lang, “and I will release you from your obligation.” Sandy recruits sweet, innocent Kim Sherwood (Allison Louise Down, as “Vickie Miles”) but no one involved in the racket has any idea of Kim’s inner strength and PLUCK!
As you have doubtless figured out, Scum of the Earth was so cheap and disreputable that most of the cast and crew refused to put their real names on it. Even director and screenwriter Herschell Gordon Lewis chose to be billed as “Lewis H. Gordon” and legendary producer David Friedman calls himself “Davis Freeman.” Editor Patrick Murphy uses the pseudonym “James Randall.” Composer Manuel Ortiz is identified in the opening credits as “Jonas Peabody,” which is such an incredible fake name for someone named Manuel Ortiz that I can only assume he won a cash prize for coming up with it.

Like most “roughies,” this movie has a plot that is offensive to modern sensibilities. If you can get past that, however, the real fun of Scum of the Earth (besides Lang’s over-the-top monologue) is watching the David Friedman/Herschell Gordon Lewis reparatory company do its thing. Leads William Kerwin, Sandra Sinclair, and Mal Arnold all appear in both Scum of the Earth and Lewis’s earlier, much-more-famous classic Blood Feast, the first widely distributed American film with explicit gore. In fact, Scum of the Earth was released only three months after Blood Feast was unleashed on the unsuspecting public. It’s the requested-by-no-one Blood Feast reunion! I wish I could say that anyone involved in either project gained any skill or talent in the intervening three months. Sadly, I cannot.
Look, it’s up to you. This is not the type of movie you can recommend or not recommend—you know if you want to see it or not. Right—you want to see it. Just remember, this column is called “Glutton for Punishment” for A REASON.

My friend, you have now read this column, based on my own sworn testimony. Can you prove that this film doesn’t exist? Perhaps on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it, but he may have been Herschell Gordon Lewis (or Lewis H. Gordon or Marvin Lester), the director/screenwriter/cinematographer of Scum of the Earth. He may ask you to pose for some innocent bikini photos—take my advice and run away! Run far away! We once laughed at fire, gravity, the horseless carriage, cheesecake, the electric light, and Ajax. So much laughter! And now some of us laugh at very bad movies. God help us in the future.

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