Plenty of accusations of misogyny are levied at horror films, and while I think that there are certainly some exhaustingly outdated tropes of slut-shaming and what can be seen as a troubling reenforcement of rape culture in many shock flicks, it's rare that I find myself leaving a movie and thinking "gee whiz, that film hates women."
I left "The Gore Gore Girls" thinking "gee whiz, this film hates women."
Let me get things back on their typically culturally-relativistic track by saying that I adore director Herschell Gordon Lewis' paleo-gore epics "Blood Feast" and "2,000 Maniacs." They're far-out gross-outs that play as sicko comedies, and Lewis' obsession with re-purposed animal parts from the butcher's shop is a unique take on the depiction of blood and guts. "Blood Feast" is particularly tongue-in-cheek in its use of meat, what with its themes of cannibalistic buffets and blood sacrifice. All this is to say that I wasn't exactly UN-prepared for the assault on my eyeballs that was "The Gore Gore Girls," Lewis' last foray into gorehound filmmaking prior to his re-emergence in the early aughts.
Allow me to set up "The Gore Gore Girls" for you, all right? Asshole detective Abraham Gentry is hired by ambitious young newspaper reporter Nancy Weston to uncover who's behind a series of vicious murders of strippers. Gentry has one thing the cops don't have--no, not a cane and/or a perm! I'm talking about the ability to bribe answers out of low-life underworld types. Being-as-how Gentry is a successful businessman (and because the plot says so), Weston is instantly attracted to this oily Borat impersonator and spends much of her time in the movie a) pining for a helping of what's hidden in Gentry's shiny polyester trousers or b) being put in booze comas when Gentry quadruples the strength of the drinks she's served. In order to speed up his investigation, Gentry plants deliberately misleading clues to throw the bumbling cops off the scent of the real killer and repeatedly places women in the path of the murderer.
There's a salacious glee taken in showing the graphic mutilation of the female victims, including the complete obliteration of women's faces. While the gore effects aren't exactly convincing (in fact, they look just like a broken mannequin's head has been filled with butcher's remnants), the lingering shots of gloved hands squeezing and smashing this meat-that-was-allegedly-a-person are deeply disturbing. It doesn't help matters that the mood vacillates wildly between this kind of vicious violence and a zany, vaudevillian brand of comedy. Frequently, both moods are shoved down one's throat simultaneously in scenes like the one where a woman's nipples are cut off with scissors, causing white milk and chocolate milk to spill forth in turn. Genital mutilation--now fortified with wackiness!
Red herrings abound, from the melon-smashing 'Nam vet who is a strip club frequenter to the militant feminist who has threatened to murder strippers in the past. Speaking of militant feminism--you know what you never hear about anymore? Bra burning. You know what this movie is uniquely obsessed with? Bra burning. Letting one's breasts drape freely within one's sweater is tantamount to planting a kiss on the devil's ass.
The movie's got no love for the feminists, but neither is it very empathetic towards the strippers, who are portrayed as dim-witted and sex-starved, or merely as bodies to toss in harm's way.
Perhaps most vexing of all is the fact that I can't deny this movie's impact. It's a hateful piece of movie-making, no doubt about it, but it manages to be thought-provoking in its very dementia. There's some Brechtian fourth-wall bashing in the form of Gentry's direct addresses to the audience, who are treated as if they are as smart as Gentry. This was particularly problematic to me, because it implies that the audience shares some of Gentry's More Questionable Viewpoints, like that whole "it's totally fine to drug women and get women killed if it means a hefty payday" thing. And back to that kooky humor--IT WORKS. It's shocking and grotesque, but I'll be damned if it doesn't elicit a very uncomfortable chuckle or two.
"The Gore Gore Girls" isn't what anyone would call a particularly good movie, but its sheer, balls-out, batshit insane embrace of offensive humor and graphic violence make it a very memorable movie. In its credit, it IS the best film I've ever seen where Henny Youngman and a bucket of sheep's eyeballs are given equal screen time.