With its audacious, astonishing, Christy Hartburg-emblazoned one-sheet that reminded audiences that Russ Meyer loved boobs as much as flamboyance, 1975’s Supervixens roared into theaters specifically designed to make the money that had eluded him with The Seven Minutes and Black Snake. But aside from its return to home base to generate some much-needed commercial appeal, the best way to consider Supervixens, Russ Meyer’s self-reflexive and Homeric odyssey through his cinematic career and psyche, is to look at it as his own spin on Fellini’s 8 1/2 (but only after you lopped off the 1/2 and rotated the 8 clockwise). With Supervixens, Meyer stretched the usual length of his independent films to a full 105 minutes and stacked it with as many women as he possibly could and crafted a full collage of his work; a pastiche remixed by the original artist that’s as introspective and surrealistic as Fellini’s immortal classic.
Supervixens is a melange of the Russ Meyer’s mind and cinematic universe; a blender of characters, ideas, whole-cloth dialogue, vehicles, locations, and situations that all popped up throughout his narrative films. From the opening frames, we see Martin Bormann (Henry Rowland), previously dispatched in the lapping California surf by Z-Man/Superwoman in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls only to reappear as the personal bartender in metaphoric hell in The Seven Minutes. Gone are the bustling streets of Los Angeles and the bucolic lushness of Barbados-as-San Cristobal Island, now replaced with the familiarity of the California desert where Bormann runs a gas station and garage (Martin Bormann’s Super Service) in which good-natured Clint (Charles Pitts) attempts to work while his insatiably wild, significant other, Super Angel (Shari Eubank) constantly calls and harangues him for sex only to become immediately poisonous if he is unable to provide it.
After a routine fracas between Super Angel and Clint leads to her murder at the hands of corrupt lawman Harry Sledge (Charles Napier, playing another peace officer named Harry as he did in Cherry, Harry, & Raquel!), Clint is falsely accused of the crime and hits the road. This journey takes him down a crazy and winding path where he tangles with refurbished, souped up and supersized characters from almost every single Meyer film up that point, most notably Soul (Uschi Digard) who has now settled down with a benevolent old man (Stuart Lancaster); their union forming the alpha of a loose trilogy that will conclude with the omega that is Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens in 1979.
Eventually, Clint exhausts the Meyer auxiliary players only to find himself settling down into the film’s most surreal section where he seemingly crosses into another plane of existence that mirrors that of the first half; Meyer’s own version of D.C. Comics’s Earth Two. Instead of Martin Bormann’s Super Service, the primary location becomes Super Vixen’s Oasis, filling station and lunch counter teetering on the edge of nowhere. Where Good Morning… and Goodbye!’s hopelessly hotted-up Angel was the prototype for Vixen’s Vixen, Super Vixen is the polar opposite of Super Angel, although both are portrayed in Supervixens by Shari Eubank.
When Harry returns to the story at the beginning of the third act, he and Clint form a revealing relationship that fully exposes a bottom drawer of Meyer’s psyche that had been percolating since Cherry, Harry, & Raquel!. Decked out in some pretty revealing clothing (even for the 70’s), Clint is given the eye by Harry and the two share a very highlighted trip to the bathroom that almost jokingly has to be played off with a certain flavor of gay panic lest the audience might think there’s something sexual in this relationship. Which, of course, there is. Unless the pointed Groucho Marx joke about cigars (delivered twice in case you missed it) is as meaningless as Harry lustfully fellating a stogie while thinking of Clint and Super Vixen having a sexual romp.
The film culminates in an action-packed and violent climax where Harry and Clint fight in the middle of the wasteland for both Super Vixen and their own souls. Keeping with the film’s metaphoric spirit, Meyer cleverly match cuts Clint and Harry running and leaping throughout the film’s final minutes to highlight the duality of the characters and the filmmaker; the hard-edged tough guy who was the ultimate alpha male versus the more sensitive and softer person to family and friends. Super Angel is killed by one and Super Vixen is given life by the other. Clint begins the film working in a service station from hell and concludes by working in a comfort station in heaven.
Written, edited, produced, photographed, and directed by Meyer, the structure of Supervixens was such that he could stretch Clint’s journey out as long as he wanted even if he continued to circle around the same point over and over which boils down to Clint’s vexations of being wanted only as a stud for Super Angel and everyone else in his path. While this is a comment on Meyer’s own frustrations with his inability to get away from sexploitation, he achieves a certain kind of peace with the ultimate destruction of Harry Sledge, representative every terrible cop in Meyer’s world, and the new life with Super Vixen. With Harry dressed in standard movie director garb and dragging Super Vixen violently across the rugged terrain, it was certainly clear that Meyer was not bereft of a sense of humor about himself and fully aware that both sides of him were on full display. But lest it be misconstrued as a soul-searching piece of intellectual humdrum, Supervixens is a terrifically fun dive into a big box of everything and a true orgiastic opus of sexual excess and self reflection.
In fact, SO horny is Supervixens that, even with its R rating and good distance from even the softest of softcore porn, it manages to titillate even the most jaded viewer thanks to Meyer’s boundless energy and eye for knee-buckling sexual imagery that work together in the presentation of something joyous, healthy, and celebratory. One of the major ingredients to making that happen with regularity was Meyer being one of cinema’s biggest proponents of the female orgasm. While his leading lady protagonists were always sexually game, from Vixen onward, Russ Meyer felt it important to stress the heights of feminine pleasure and use it to conclude his sex scenes which, ironically, is the complete opposite of how mainstream hardcore pornography is executed; male ejaculation generally marking the cinematic conclusion of a scene.
But for all the joyous humping throughout, Meyer first shows his sadistic side as, in Supervixens, impotency creates a sense of inferiority, bitterness, and self loathing and, ultimately, homicidal violence. What begins as a regular Meyer sequence in which Super Angel rebuffs Harry Sledge and his limp cock eventually turns into an absolute masterclass of terror and suspense. From the moment Super Angel leaves the room, the jazzy soundtrack music abruptly ends and the lighting goes from muted to highly expressionistic as the sequence of stalk and kill becomes unusual in its employment of graphic violence and the deft sense of style leading up to it. With Napier peering through the door crack before sweet-talking Super Angel as she cowers in a locked bathroom and tries to escape through a locked window, the scene bears more than a passing resemblance to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining, a film that also used impotency (though familial and professional instead of physical) as the catalyst for a man’s homicidal rage. While the scene is shocking (Hitchcock reportedly loved it), it’s counterbalanced with enough good clean fun and surrealistic spirit to make it feel more artistically necessary than hostile and mean-spirited, as would be the case with Meyer’s following picture.
There is no denying that Supervixens was the most fun Russ Meyer had making a movie since Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. While there is enough in Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens to justify their creation (moreso the latter), it’s hard not to wish that had he had just settled down after winning the war within, lopped the end off Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens, and added it here. In that alternative universe, Supervixens would be a five star masterpiece and a fitting end to the career of the best to ever do it.
But, as the man once said, if if’s and but’s were candies and nuts, every day would be Christmas.
(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain