The Monster and the Stripper (1968)

Also known as: The Exotic Ones

Reviewing films has some parallels to romance and human relationships. You meet Girl A, and she's absolutely wonderful. You meet Girl B and she's equally wonderful. They both have all the qualities you could ever ask for in a person, but somehow, for some reason you can't explain, you find yourself falling in love with Girl B. You don't want to hurt Girl A's feelings, she really is special, but something's just not right. The Monster and the Stripper is still a worthy film in my collection, and it's quite a unique cinematic experience, but it's kind of a 'Girl A' for me. I just didn't fall in love with it. Director Ron Ormond's got quite a name in cult movie circles. Having directed the yet-to-be-viewed Mesa of Lost Women , he also contributed this little gem, and somewhere along the line became a born-again Christian. After The Monster and the Stripper came films like If Footmen tire you, what will Horses do? and The Burning Hell. Both rabidly fundamentalist depictions of Christianity and Hell, with gore, hysteria and mutilation aplenty. These oddball experiences are definitely on my list for the future. Let's settle for The Monster and the Stripper tonight, and take the Ormond ouevre one step at a time!

One thing The Monster and the Stripper has going for it, is it's New Orleans setting, which seems pretty rare for exploitation films. The film seems to be set in the fifties, even though it was made in the late sixties. Much use is made of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. After some blaring horn music to introduce our film, we get a quick Russ Meyer-esque travelogue sequence showing the colour and vibrancy of the area, as well as the seedy side with it's 'exotic dancers' and strippers. We then take a boat-ride with a hapless local in the Louisiana bayous, who's quickly despatched by a half-seen caveman-like monster lurking in the swamplands. We then return to Bourbon Street, where Nemo (our intrepid director, mop-top Ormond himself) is auditioning new strippers for his ailing club. We get to see the auditions ad infinitum. One overweight girl is ejected, much to her distress. Others are accepted. There's no real nudity in this film, but plenty of underwear and the ubiquitous pasties. Boy, is there gore though, on a Herscell Gordon Lewis level, quite a bit later on. Nemo and his right hand man, who's always trying to pick up the girls with the same old lines, work along with Titania (Georgette Dante), the head stripper who dances with real fireballs on her pasties, to run the place. Titania's a jealous sort who hates any new stripper who gets too much attention. There's also an Inspector (Ronald Drake) who's on Nemo's case, as the boss also runs a crime syndicate in town, which props up his club. The Inspector's also trying to convince a potential singer for the place, the wide-eyed Effie (Peggy Ann Price) to stay away from Nemo, as his girls always end up strippers or turning tricks. Effie won't listen though, and sees the club as her big break.

We soon gain an understanding of how ruthless Nemo and his associates are, when they interrogate a double-crosser in their ranks. As the questioning proceeds and gets more threatening, they stub out their cigarettes in a spitoon. Eventually, after the whimpering guy's confessed, they force him to drink the vile contents of the spitoon, second-hand saliva, ash and cigarettes butts all-included. There's a few cinematic firsts in Monster and I suspect that was one of them! I'll enjoy telling you about the other one further down the track. Effie impresses Nemo with her singing, but he wants her to dress more sexily. His stage manager, an older retired stripper, convinces Effie to go wait in his room and try some things on. She does, and is somewhat alarmed at all the nude paintings in the place - the only nudity we actually get to see in the film! Effie tries on some of Titania's feathery outfits and is surprised when she actually turns up in a rage. Hot on her heels though is Nemo, who sends her away. Effie gets more and more repelled by the seedy situation, but is eventually swayed into performing by the huge handful of cash Nemo offers. Later, as the strip club is slowly going down the financial gurgler, 'the crew' decide on capturing 'The Swamp Thing' who's been reported in the papers, who lives in the bayous, and has killed again. They figure it will make for sensatonal, King-Kong-like publicity, at least. We meet a young bayou boy, Marty (Jack Horton) who's spotted the monster a few times. He sees the aftermath of a Swamp Thing attack, a nastily mutilated - for real - cow. The head is seperated from the body, the intestines spilling out hideously. I hope the animal was already dead prior to filming, that's all I can say. He then spots the creature (extremely tall Rockabilly legend Sleepy Labeef, with false teeth, eyebrows, some patchy body-hair and a loincloth) lurking in the bushes and runs. Somehow, he's later joined by Nemo's hunting party, and is paid to find the thing for them. The hunt goes badly, with one man seperated and beaten into bloody mush offscreen by the creature, who seems to live under a pile of straw in the everglades. One of the hunters panics and flees after this awful revelation, and is promptly intercepted by the Swamp Thing. Now, another first, as the man has his arm messily ripped off, and is beaten to bloody death with his own severed limb! Old Herschell couldn't have conceived of this gore scene better himself. Finally they tranquilize the monster with a dart, and cart him off to the club.

After some more enjoyable - but of course, non-nude - strip acts, we see the situation the captured Swamp Thing is in. Imprisoned in a cage but looked after by young Marty, Ol' Swampy is forced to stand in his cage while strippers do their stuff in front of him. When Titania dances in front of him and partially sets his cage on fire, he gets agitated and aggressive. When Effie sings in front of him, he's docile and happy just to touch her on the shoulder now and then. As an added crowd 'pleaser' the Swamp Thing is fed a live chicken which he 'geeks' by twisting it's throat and biting it on-stage, reducing it to a bloody mess. I'm not a big fan of animal cruelty in cinema, and this scene is pretty nasty. Pictures I've seen of LaBeef on the internet in 'normal mode' hardly make him look like something capable of killing a chicken on film, he looks like someone's entertaining, middle-aged cowboy uncle. Oh well, we grit our teeth and keep on watching ... In the meantime, the Inspector's net of evidence gets tighter around Nemo, but funnily enough, he keep turning up to the shows. Our next act is a middle-aged couple who do a mouth organ duet - the whole song! Perhaps another filmic first? Backstage, the stripper that the Swamp Thing dislikes, Titania, gets into a catfight with Effie and bruises and scratches her up. The monster's enraged and breaks loose from his cage, killing Titania, leaving her a gore-splattered cadaver. The Inspector tries to spring his trap on Nemo, but is knocked out by one of his henchmen. All hell breaks loose on the stage as the Monster attacks. Strippers flee everywhere. Nemo is caught by the creature and as Effie screams, and the now-conscious Inspector looks on horrified, has his head crushed into a bloody pulp. Will anyone, exotic or not, escape the wrath of a Swamp Thing unleashed?

The Monster and the Stripper, in fact, has a lot going for it. Ormond's employed a wonderful colour scheme which saturates the film from beginning to end. Deep reds seem to be the order of the day, but at all times the colours are rich and vibrant. There are some similarities to the Russ Meyer approach now and then, with the enthusiastic narrator opening and closing the film, the blaring music and of course the cinematography. We also have an obvious delight in the female form, despite the lack of outright nudity. The stripteases on display, and they're plentiful, vary from corny when the old veteran does her big feather-number, to quite erotic when the redhead does her extended strip. She starts with a conservative-looking slip and ends up in bra and suspenders. Well, somehow it works for me. The gore is a plus for any exploitation fans, with the 'arm scene' the big showstopper. The actual 'Monster' as played by Labeef is a bit of a dissapointment, although he seems to give it his snarling all. He's certainly imposing in the height department. The makeup crew lets him down somewhat, seeming to run out of hair when supposedly creating a 'Bigfoot' type of creature. His loincloth is a bit too neatly jagged as well, but I could just be being picky! The acting is adequately pitched for this type of genre, with Ormond behind his sunglasses being the most wooden if anything. Still, if his acting annoys you, just wait 'til Sleepy gets his hands on him.

If you can track this one down, I'd definitely recommend at least a single view. It's a nice melding of Meyer, Lewis and probably dozens of other influences. Is there anything substantial missing? Maybe some actual nudity? Things were freeing up in 1968, yet while we see arms ripped off and copious blood, there's nary a nipple in sight. I could have done without the animal cruelty, but I suppose it's an element of sideshow grossness that adds an extra dollop of sleaze to the proceedings. Things like the mouth organ duet are just fun, even though extremely silly. I'm not exactly sure what Ormond was thinking there, having established that this film is about stripping and gore. It's almost a cinematic burlesque review of the oddest kind that he's put together. I'm grateful that it exists, and while I don't absolutely love The Monster and the Stripper, I'd still like to be very good friends.

© Boris Lugosi, 2008.

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