Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
|Tommy:||Look, I don’t know what the hell your point is, but…|
|Varla:||The point is of no return and you’ve reached it!|
There is no doubt that Russ Myers 1965 movie Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Is a cult classic, but what I ask you today is, is it a horror movie? To answer that question not only do you have to dive into the movie itself but also what horror truly is.
I know this seems obvious but in case you have not seen a five decade old movie there will be some spoilers.
Over fifty years later the black and white movie is remember primarily for its leather clad amazon lead, Varla. Played by Tura Santana. She is the leader of a gang of go-go dancers called The Watusi Cats (the term is never used in the film, but is in the original trailers). When driving their fast cars in the California high desert, they come across fellow car enthusiasts Tommy and his girlfriend Linda. Emotions get hot during a race between Tommy and Varla, and she kills him with her bare hands, the leader of the TWC tells the other girls to kidnap Linda.
They learn about an old wheelchair bound hermit who is supposed to have hidden away a huge pile of money. The three girls with their hostage in tow decide to rob him. They all end up have lunch with the old man, his dim withed but super muscular youngest son called “The Vegetable” and brooding introspective older son Kirk. It revealed that the father is a misogynist who blames all women for the woman who caused his accident.
Eventually after blonde Watusi Cat Billie, tries to seduce Vegetable and Varla seduces Kirk, loyalties begin to fray and six out of the nine on screen characters are killed. Climaxing in a battle between Varla and Kirk where he has no chance to win and is only saved when the woman is run over by a truck driven by Linda.
The movie was the brainchild of Russ Myers, who made a string of sexploitation movies during the 60’s and 70’s. He had recently written a movie about women being beaten by men and decided to turn the tables and make a movie about men being beaten up by women.
If FPKK is not horror what genre is it? Originally it was billed as a ‘nuddie’ picture, but that isn’t exactly right because there is no nudity in the movie. (OK, yes there is a scene where you see Bilie bathing from the back but it reveals none of her “naughty parts”) It could be seen as a sexploitation movie, and that is probably right, but I don’t see that preventing it from being a horror movie too. Some now feel that with its strong female main character it is actually a prototype feminist movie. Yes it has strong (both psychically and mentally) female characters but I don’t really see it as a feminist icon that others do. Varla is both exploited by and transcends her own movie.
To conclude weather or not FPKK is a horror movie we need to understand both the movie and the basic definition of a horror movie. The most basic definition would be a move that scares the audience, but if we leave the definition that open then most good war movies would be horror movies too. For this post I am going to use the definition of a horror movie as a movie that brings a primal dread to the audience, and one that audience could see themselves in the situations the victims find themselves.
Psycho is seen by many as a classic horror movie, but it is rather tame when compared to the Psycho killer movies that followed it. It is scary because we have all been in hotels. It’s not until we think about this movie do we realize how vulnerable we are in a remote hotel. Hotel employees like maids and innkeepers are supposed to take care of us when we are away from home. We don’t expect Norm bates to stab us in the shower, when we are naked and at our most venerable. Many people equate horror movies with the supernatural, but there is nothing occult in Psycho, just a crazed man. The movie is also horrific in my opinion because even though now we all know Vivian Leigh is going to be killed in the shower, but in 1960, the audience seeing it for the first time where genuinely surprised when what they thought was the main character, was cut down so brutally and quickly in the middle of the movie. With that in mind let’s look why I think Faster Pussycat Kill Kill is a horror movie.
I can see Varla as a progenitor of the killer seen in later 70’s and 80’s slasher movies. Though she kills more people with cars than any other means she always keeps her handy knife with her. Car using serial killer Stuntman Mike from Tarantino’s half of Grind House, Death Proof is the direct spiritual successor of Kill Kill’s V. We find out that the killers like Michael Myers. And Jason Voorhees suffered some kind of childhood trauma. Unlike the Old Man, Varla doesn’t wear her past tragedies on her sleeve, you can tell something happened to her in the past. This could be because the actress Tura Santana suffered gang rape as a child. She also began to study martial arts and as an adult beat the holy crap out of her abusers. Varla’s fashion choice and much of her dialog came from Tura, so her pain and torment surface in Varla’s story.
Varla is a very human monster much like a modern slasher, but she is also symbolic as the woman as a monster. This is not a new concept. We can see it in Kipling’s Victorian aged poem The Most Dangerous of the Species or Helen Vaughn in Arthur Meacham’s 1894 The Great God Pan. Women are perceived as nurtures and protectors, and when someone like Varla turns the stereotypes on their head, it seems like it is an abomination to the natural order. She didn’t kill Tommy with her knife or car, but with her bare hands. In theory men should be able to defend themselves in a hand to hand combat fight between men and woman, but he couldn’t. In killing him Varla not only proved she was greater than men, she was greater than human kind, and she was a true monster.
Some see FPKK as a feminist movie because the Watusi Cats shake up the social norm. These girls are killers, and more importantly they like it. Sure there had been murderous feme fatales in noir stories in the past, but these girls take it to a new level. They aren’t wives or daughters about to be maneuvered out their inheritance, these are cold blooded killers, that use men like some men used women in the 60’s. They can kill a man and kidnap his girlfriend, and they cannot be stopped. Though Varla says she is only keeping Linda alive for a ransom, it is unexpressed that she thinks she can turn this all American girl next door in to one of them, a man eating killer. The girls are like vampires without supernatural abilities, and many men in the 60’s found this both disturbing and strangely enticing.
It is an open secret that in our Puritanical America that sex is scary. This was even truer in the 60’s. Roger Corman once noted he directed a scene where someone goes down a hallway to a room with a locked door and a ghost behind it, as he would young virgin heading to his first sexual encounter, because locked somewhere in the American Audience’s brain is this fear of sex. That this movie is about sex is obvious and is advertised in the title, Faster = speedy cars, Pussycat= sex, Kill Kill = Violence. Not only do the Watusi Cats seduce people in the movies to their possible death, they seduced the audience from their hard earned money.
Even if an audience member thinks they are immune to feminine willies of the killer go-go dancers, where they can see themselves in danger is the desert. The California high desert, I think is the perfect setting. It is both claustrophobic and agoraphobic. You can see 360 degree horizon, but you have no place to hide. You are trapped like in a cellar, only it gives you the illusion of being able to escape. You will not be able to get to someone who can help you before Varla can get to you. She is mechanical in her desire for revenge. Though she is wearing a black leather catsuit she never sweets, she never gets tired, she just keeps coming after you. In this way she is a very much the mother of future generation of slashers.
For these reason as well as the general fear and dread I think this move can generate, I believe that Faster Pussycat Kill Kill is truly a horror movie.