I love monster movies where the monster is an attractive naked woman! No, wait, “love” isn’t right, what’s the word I want? Oh yes, despise.
Still, THE DEATHHEAD VIRGIN is a curio, being the last film of Norman Foster, former minor movie star (forever traducing Sylvia Sidney in the thirties) later director of JOURNEY INTO FEAR and the best of the MR. MOTO films (pretty entertaining stuff, depending on what you’re drinking). It was made in the Philippines, which is generally a mark of quality when it comes to horror films. Low quality is still quality, right?
I know, I’ve started off with a dubious assumption, that there’s some kind of sub-genre of monster movie that substitutes nudie cuties for Charles Gemorra/Rick Baker in a monkey suit, or a Carlo Rambaldi animatronic contraption, or a CGI virtual sculpture of a bat with a cow’s legs. Well, that sub-genre consists of (1) LIFEFORCE, a simply remarkable Tobe Hooper oddity which recasts the concerns of the QUATERMASS films and TV series through the concerns of a frantically masturbating sixteen-year-old schoolboy. Favourite moment: the scary shadow of the monster on a wall, consisting of the shapely silhouette of Mathilda May, breasts jutting like zeppelins. Can you feel the stark terror?
And (2) THE FACULTY, directed by Robert “will this do?” Rodriguez, which climaxes with the hero being stalked by a starkers Laura Harris. How will he survive? I mean, she’s all naked and everything! When I worked on a kids’ TV show, the two 14-year-olds were big Josh Hartnett fans, and were appalled that I hadn’t seen this. “It’s, like, one of the great films!”
In fact, it’s like, not, but who would deny youth its illusions?
Old age, by contrast, often comes with wisdom, so I hope Foster cashed his cheque fast on this one. The movie deals with some kind of curse, elaborated at such tedious length that one forgets how it started before the exposition is finished. But the result is a naked girl in a skull mask who goes around killing people, and can apparently breathe underwater, or maybe she doesn’t breath at all. Lots of aquatic action here, which seems to be the main sales pitch: JAWS, with the roles of predatory fish and skinny dipper kind of reversed. But this movie was made in 1974, before JAWS. There’s a lesson there: never make a bizarre variant on a box office smash BEFORE the box office smash has happened.
Moments of interest: the opening titles don’t start until about seven minutes in, and don’t end until fifteen minutes in. And the movie is barely over an hour, that’s over a fifth of the running time eaten up by credits. Foster may be the archetypal “guy who’s forgotten more about filmmaking than we’ll ever know” at this point. I was half expecting more credits to start halfway, or for the film to suddenly end and begin again, or for an entire scene to play out upside down. Once such basic structural sense has been jettisoned, it seems like anything’s possible.
The other moment of interest is the scene where the two unappealing male leads and the somewhat depressed Filipino bikini girl entertain themselves by drunkenly chucking lit sticks of dynamite about on a beach. This little divertissement is served up so blithely, without any explanation, that I figure it’s something Foster, a much-traveled man-of-the-world, we are told, may have indulged in himself. It is at least marginally less suicidal than John Huston’s favourite pastime in Mexico, a variant on Russian roulette: load a pistol, pull the hammer back, and throw it at the ceiling. You have two chances of getting killed, as does anybody else in the room (or anybody passing by outside): once when the pistol hits the ceiling, and once when it hits the floor.
I explained this gag to David Wingrove, who thought it sounded pretty good fun. “Much better than Russian roulette. Russian roulette always seems so bleak.”