In Up!, Russ Meyer’s gory sex mystery from 1976, Raven De La Croix’s Margot Winchester grinds on a hillbilly cop through multiple marathon sex sessions in which no position goes untried and no location goes unexplored. Yet, despite all the physical exercise, Margo Winchester eventually looks down at her stud and, in her best Mae West voice, simply tells him that they “can’t keep doing this without a change of pace.”
This is significant because the term “change of pace” had been on Meyer’s mind since the titular character used it as a soft-sell for an extended lesbian coupling in Vixen. It popped up in the same context in Cherry, Harry, & Raquel! just as the gatekeeping men began to fight to the death in the desert while the women took comfort in each other’s arms. In other words, it was a phrase defined as anything that shattered the up-and-down norm of the red-blooded, male-to-female American way of fucking.
Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens, Russ Meyer’s final narrative film and last movie to find distribution in theaters, is a rambunctious and energetic plea for sanity in a world of sexed-up miscreants, all of whom live amorous lives that are 100% “change of pace.” The central story is very basic: Lamar Shed (Ken Kerr) simply cannot have straight vaginal sex with his randy and willing wife Lavonia (Francesca “Kitten” Natividad) as he prefers to penetrate her anally, much to her chagrin. Put upon by his demanding boss, Junkyard Sal (June Mack), and faced with the fact that Lavonia has been having daily nooners with the town garbageman, Mr. Peterbilt (Patrick Wright), Lamar turns to religion in the guise of radio evangelist Eufaula Roop (Ann Marie) in the hopes of solving his curious sexual issue.
Ostensibly a film about issues in suburbia, literally every single thing in Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens is from a piece of another film in Meyer’s oeuvre. Unlike Supervixens, this is not a comment on Meyer’s career or psyche but his final word on a conversation that began with Lorna, a film that more or less had the same opening moments; a wife is laying on a bed getting hot and bothered while her man sits at the kitchen table and does math. The burly and gigantic Mr. Peterbilt, the town cocksmith who satisfies Lavonia when her husband can’t, is none other than the same character as Stone from Good Morning… and Goodbye, and portrayed by the same actor. Horny, unfulfilled women meet with either rock-hard and fleeting encounters or ambitiously eager but worthless men. In the cinematic world of Russ Meyer, Small Town, USA, is always full of strange sexual encounters and a place where behind closed doors there is just as much chance as trouble as there is adventure. “Sure people play around a little in Small Town but that’s just to keep things from getting so darn peaceful,” Lancaster intones as the film winds to a close. “And, if they don’t get what they want the first time around, there’s always tomorrow.”
After the cornucopia of perversion that was explored in Up!, Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens was a hard wring-out of that cloth. While that film was the first to introduce, among other things, the beaver shot, Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens goes all the way to the edge of the labia. It also features a pair of testicles in energetic, connubial action; a fully used double-ended dildo; a suggested fisting; an off-screen foursome in the back of a garbage truck; some displaced semen; and, amid a sea of massive and fake penises, an extreme close up of the massive head of Antony-James Ryan’s fully erect cock, its stiffness highly unusual for a non-pornographic film, especially an American one. And with Meyer’s lustful eye for monster dicks and perfectly sculpted male bodies intact, his quick glances at Rhett (Steve Tracy), Meyer’s final say on gorgeous male youth, leaves little doubt as to whether or not the filmmaker found Tracy the same kind of beautiful specimen cut that was cut from the same cloth as Charles Napier.
But, even with these inclusions, after the hedonistic, anything-goes smorgasbord found in Up! the point of Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens is, in fact, one of balance. In fact, Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens is like those second epilogues he was fond of. After using the previous films to take stock of his career and pushing his sexual boundaries as far as they’d go, this film was a call to reign it in a little. After all, kinky fun is all fine and good but when it takes over one’s life, it can create a slippery slope where things have to get more and more wild until there is nothing left to explore or excite. Because if David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Crash taught audiences anything, it’s that full immersion in the path to the ultimate thrill is a ruinous one without an internal governor.
And though it slightly predates the juggernaut that was TBN in Ronald Reagan’s America, Meyer was closer to the gross truth than he realized when Beneath the Valley of the Ulltravixens ends with the suggestion that religious salvation is the only thing that can wash away the sins of unconventional sexual behavior. For lots of folks in Small Town USA who engaged in or enjoyed a little carnal experimentation in the 60’s and 70’s got washed clean in the red, white, and blue waters of the 80’s only to pretend as if like they never even thought about looking at a naked woman/man in their entire life. The film’s inclusion of Martin Bormann (Paul Rowlands in his fourth at-bat as the character) is the embodiment of this specific kind of suburban rot of the 80’s. Like Up!’s Adolph Schwartz, Bormann has become a rich pervert with a questionable past who lives among the great unwashed by day but, at night, turns the lights down low to engage in his favorite sexual activity which is to climb into a coffin and peep through a hole in the sheet while watching a strip show. Weird and surreal? Yes. Based off of a dancer’s first-hand recollection of the outré adventures in kink-filled suburbia? Also, yes.
But lest all this be misconstrued as a cutting polemic or even another journey into the soul of the filmmaker like Supervixens, Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens is, at its core, a raucous comedy that was a refreshing pivot after the graphic violence in Up! and most all of it still works, chiefly due to its light-hearted tone and complete commitment to role reversal. If there is one thing in Lorna that contemporary audiences wrestle with it’s that Lorna achieves a kind of sexual independence through her encounter with the escaped convict which, in no uncertain terms, is rape. While Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens will one day have its time in the barrel for a lot of its content, Lavonia’s similarly framed romp with Rhett in the river seems less hostile even though the dynamics are similar as they are in Lorna. Likewise, a male boss insisting that “overtime” should be in the form of a roll in the sack may never be ok, but only those who are too sensitive to any kind of transgressive comedy would see June Mack flipping the tables on Lamar as a problem. And this goes double for the roofie Lavonia (“disguised” as Lola Longusta, Lavonia’s Mexican stripper alter-ego) slips her husband in aid of trying to get him to fuck straight.
Conceding that the Asa Lavender (Robert E. Pearson) character might be a little on the exaggerated side (but, really, who isn’t in this film?), Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens is the only Meyer film in which gay sex (or the idea of enjoying it) isn’t met with some kind of graphic violence. In fact, the whole point of the scene in Lavender’s office is to contrast the women enjoying a lesbian encounter (not unlike in Vixen or Cherry, Harry, & Raquel!) and Lamar’s gay panic causing him to get trapped in a closet. Asa’s preening and prissing outside the door is not only a light reworking of the proto-Shining moment between Charles Napier and Shari Eubank in Supervixens, it’s a punch-up to a male power structure that feels threatened by a little queerness. After all, Lamar explicitly laments “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” which feels more like a mashed potato “This means something” moment from Close Encounters of the Third Kind more than it does a throwaway line (which, for what its worth, is uttered twice in the case you missed it).
Despite running over well-traversed territory, Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens is worth the price of admission not only due to Meyer’s brilliant lighting, camerawork, use of color and editing, but also its full spotlight on Natividad who is a total joy in her role as Lavonia and her stripper alter ego, Lola Langusta. Other treasures are Stuart Lancaster’s fourth wall-breaking, uproarious, and deadpan delivery of the film’s narration (from a screenplay co-written by Meyer as B. Callum and Roger Ebert as R. Hyde); the mysterious MVP that is June Mack (50% hot/50% terrifying but 100% alluring); the film’s oh-so 1979 interior design and gadgetry (I spy an Odyssey 200 home video game system); and, naturally, the film’s closing moments which, given Meyer’s retirement from theatrical features, are much more moving than they have any right to be.
A year after Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens was released, Kirdy Stevens’s Taboo put the final nail in the coffin for Meyer. A hardcore film that REALLY examined the kinks and perversions in plain Jane suburbia, Taboo quickly reframed the outrageousness here a little quaint. Taken as a sex comedy of its day, Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens really cooks. Its taste may be questionable by today’s standards and perhaps some of it is almost TOO exaggerated for comfort but its hard to think that any of this was coming from a place where the intentions were anything but harmless.
And, ultimately, it was the fault of the market, not Meyer, that more room wasn’t made for these kinds of movies. God knows he tried. And, sure, there were films from Crown International and a whole host of other drive-in made production companies making T&A flicks by the barrel when Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens was released but few of those films were QUITE as aggressively sexual and operating in they grayest of areas between softcore pornography and drive-in trash than Meyer’s work was. And Meyer knew that, as much as video meant the end of the four-walled sex picture, it also meant that the days of the drive-in were numbered, too.
In Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens where “beneath the valley” is literally defined as the kind of aberrant sex Lamar cannot quit which renders him unable to “look a great fuck straight in the eye,” Russ Meyer does condone closing it off or making its access forbidden. After all, Mr. Peterbilt’s refusal to eat pussy because “it’s un-American” was, in 1979, no longer Meyer’s position of debate as it might have been once upon a time. But even if all of the steps are gentle as one ventured (or venture) beneath the valley, Meyer argued, and perhaps rightly, that it is a place where one should vacation on and not live.
Or, as the John Furlong-dubbed Meyer says in the film’s closer “Something as precious as love brings with it a demand for an occasional change of pace.”
(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain