Something slightly magical was lost when we slipped out of that specific era when unfinished or abandoned films could get purchased, infused with new footage that had only the slightest of connective tissue to the main story, and then passed on to unsuspecting customers as a legitimate and brand new product. There is a certain quaintness to that hustle that has pretty much been lost to time. But such was the case with Satan’s Bed (1965), the second atrocity from filmmaker Michael Findlay’s filmmaking laboratory of untoward spite and dank misanthropy. Beginning life as Judas City, an international sex slavery/drug thriller starring Yoko Ono as an Asian bride in stateside jeopardy at the hands of a greasy Val Avery, Findlay picked up the footage and grafted onto it a parallel plot line involving three smacked out ne’er-do-wells who rape and murder their way across New York City and its adjoining suburbs.
And, in fact, Satan’s Bed begins on the Findlay foot with the three miscreants waking up after what appears to be a particularly rough night. The booze is gone, the sheets are in tangles, a bra is pinned to a door with a switchblade, empty boxes of Parliaments (right) are strewn about, and, worst of all, they are out of smack. And it’s the good stuff! “Straight from the Orient!” one of them says. They head out of the house to commit crimes to get more money for smack, revealing a woman who has been assaulted, beaten, and tied to a pool table. This being a Michael Findlay production, this put-upon woman is played by Roberta Findlay who, credited with her usual Anna Riva pseudonym, provided the lighting for the padded portion while Michael, using his Julian Marsh credit, shot it.
The “straight from the Orient” heroin is found in the Judas City portion of the film where immigration agent Paul smuggles dope in from oversees at the behest of Lou (Val Avery) who is blackmailing Paul for some malfeasance the latter engaged in while they were both in the service together. Paul, trying to settle down with his new bride, Ito (Yoko Ono), vows to quit the smuggling business so Lou has the easily duped Ito kidnapped to pressure Paul into continuing in the illicit trade.
The Findlay thread of Satan’s Bed is a straight roughie. A two man and one woman team of chaos bemoan Lou’s inability to get new dope and they even entertain kidnapping Yoko Ono to get a deal on the stuff. But since these two different pieces of celluloid cannot physically merge into each other where Yoko Ono materializes in the Findlay footage, they first have to get “MORE MONEY” which basically opens their narrative up to simply stalk, rape, beat, rob, rinse, and repeat all the way to the end of the film.
What makes this footage of some interest is its inclusion of the cat-like female who gets her kicks along with the men. Though this wasn’t exactly novel (Orson Welles had Mercedes McCambridge as his hellcat in Touch of Evil), the way the female gang member bounds through the various environments with wanton glee feels like the progenitor of Jeramie Rain’s Sadie in Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, itself just a late-stage roughie with all the winking titillation drained out of it. Also similar to Last House are the final moments where Findlay’s contribution resolves itself with a home invasion that spills out onto the lawn and into the swimming pool and adjoining woods. The Findlay portion also adds a detour involving a friend of Paul’s with whom Ito is going to stay. This is the big motivational end for this portion of the story and it’s completely anticlimactic since we know Paul can’t even find Ito to get her to this house in the first place.
Honestly, there is probably a lot of kitsch interest in Satan’s Bed due to Yoko Ono’s appearance and there has probably been more than one ironic movie night that was hosted in which this was a main feature but, honestly, she’s quite good in her role. Though she’s not given much to do, she looks appropriately frightened, disgusted, bewildered, and despairing when the needs for such emotions arise. And, given the film’s abrupt and shocking conclusion, those who think Yoko Ono forever loosed the fabric of the universe will have something to stand up and cheer about while people actually invested in her character will be picking their jaws up off the floor.
For in the end, the film beats Chinatown to the punch by about eight years in reflecting how the powerful are never punished and that victims of assault always have a double burden to bear. Of course, in this case, Satan’s Bed comes to this conclusion stumbling forward without any cash, necessitating an abrupt ending in which crime does, in fact, pay. And, Jesus, I wish I could bottle Val Avery’s sleazy “who me?” facial expression he flashes before walking off to commit more crimes because that shit is magic.
(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain