Vixen! (1968)

Given how much I enjoy Russ Meyer's films, there's certainly a lack of them in these pages. One review for Faster Pussycat, kill, kill! really isn't enough. I aim to rectify this shortfall in the coming years. If only they weren't so damned expensive to buy! One should really put expense aside though, as these films are totally unique and compelling viewing experiences. In case you are new to the Meyer pantheon, his schtick is basically large-breasted women, whether nude or bursting out of skin-tight costumes. We're talking real breasts, not silicon-filled fakes. The draw of a Meyer film though, is not just the women, although they certainly help, but also the incredible, razor-sharp editing and bizarre sixties scripts that flow through the movies. There is a lot of dialogue in a Meyer piece. Meyer films have bizarre plot tangents and conclusions, twisted humour and spot-on camerawork and colour. Meyer was originally a cameraman and it shows in the films.

To Vixen, though. There isn't much plot to describe, but I'll give it a shot. Vixen Palmer (the stunning Erica Gavin) is the isolated, frustrated, sex-charged housewife of a freelance Canadian bush pilot, Tom Palmer (Garth Pillbury) who is often away on flying trips. First we see Vixen frolicking and having sex with a mountie, as Tom maintains his ignorance of the wife he trusts. Vixen's younger brother, biker Judd (Jon Evans) is staying with them, and often his black American friend Niles (Harrison Page) turns up. Unbeknownst to Tom, Vixen constantly makes crude advances to Judd, and racist attacks on Niles, often calling him "Rufus", along with other obscenely racist remarks. I really don't know if this film could be made today for the racism alone, let alone the incest! It's pretty startling to hear Vixen's tirades - she seems to also have a problem with Niles being a draft-dodger from the Vietnam War.

Two customers of Tom's come to stay at the house, Dave King and redhead wife Janet, played by Robert Aiken and Vincene Wallace. Janet is jealous of Dave's interest in Vixen, which is reciprocated as we can see by a weirdo dance by Vixen involving a fish! You'll just have to see it to believe it, but the fish ends up in her ample cleavage. Soon, on a fishing trip, Dave and Vixen have sex and Janet makes a pass at Tom, who rejects her. Drunk and depressed, Janet is later seduced by Vixen also. Oh well, at least she didn't miss out! I have heard Erica Gavin baulked at filming these scenes and she does look pretty uncomfortable, I must say. At least it finishes on a smile ...

After more passes at her brother and racist jibes at Niles, Vixen and Judd finally have a shower together, and have animalistic sex afterwards. Seemingly non-plussed, Judd tries to get Niles involved, but Vixen will have none of it. Furious after more insults, Niles encounters another customer of Tom's, Irishman O'Bannion (Michael O'Donnell), a communist who plans to hijack the plane to Cuba. Niles agrees to help him after more racist attacks from Vixen. As Vixen, Tom, Niles and O'Bannion take off and the hijack occurs, it will be touch and go whether the put-upon Niles will see another, darker side of O'Bannion, and any of them will survive the flight ...

You've got to hand it to Russ Meyer. One minute we're watching a virtually plotless sex romp, the next minute we're involved in a tense hijack with communism versus capitalism diatribes coming from all sides. It's a magical transformation really, yet it all fits together and if you're familiar with the Meyer approach, it's not a surprise. I love the way he melds action, violence and sex into a heady mixture. The sex in this film is the main focus, and Erica Gavin can certainly pretend to be an animal in heat quite well. There is a lot of growling and grunting, particularly in the "Judd scene". We're not talking hardcore-explicit, but the director uses softcore to maximum impact. Of course, Vixen has all the quality of Meyer film, which includes the photography, complex editing and constant sixties music running throughout. The sex-obsessed dialogue is a treat, co-written by Anthony-James Ryan.

Erica Gavin only made a handful of movies, and I have no idea why her film career didn't take off. Maybe prudish studio elements didn't want to cast her after a sex film. Maybe she quit the industry for a different life. It's a shame though, as she's an undoubted screen presence, those evil eyebrows sitting atop big, expressive eyes are something else! Gavin throws herself into the role, not just with the sex scenes - well, except the lesbian scene - but with the full gamut of Vixen's passion, hatred, joy and sadness. Vixen is as much Erica Gavin's film as Russ Meyer's, yet four films later she disappeared from the screen. It's our loss as well as Erica's, if she stopped making films involuntarily.

Highly recommended, and not just for the breasts!

© Boris Lugosi 2005.

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Review written: 04/04/2005 20:40:58