laserdisc review by Gary Johnson
Russ Meyer's Lashomania," proudly proclaims the laserdisc sleeve for Blacksnake, a new release from Russ Meyer's own RM Films International. Whereas the other RM Films International releases were heralded as "Russ Meyer's Bosomania," the packaging for Blacksnake immediately sets it apart and indicates it's not your run-of-the-mill Russ Meyer movie. And in this case, the packaging doesn't lie: in Blacksnake, the lash of a whip definitely plays a more important role than the female bosom. That's an usual position for a Russ Meyer movie. His career owes a great debt to the breasts of stars such as Tura Satana (Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!), Kitten Natividad (Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens), Lorna Maitland (Mudhoney), and Erica Gavin (Vixen).
With Blacksnake, however, Meyer replaced the nudity so customary of his movies with strong doses of sadism. (All nude shots of the movie's star, Anouska Hempel, appear to have been provided by a body double.) Instead of focusing on the over-sexed life of a pneumatically-blessed heroine, Meyer gives us a cruel, sadistic plantation owner named Lady Susan. She owns an entire Caribbean island and she rules it with a leather whip, which she frequently applies to the backs of her slaves. The movie makes this clear during the opening credits, which play out with Lady Susan repeatedly cracking her whip amid a collection of short excerpts from the movie to follow: "Black and white together? Never!" shouts Lady Susan. CRACK! "Black faggot!" yells the plantation's foreman. CRACK! "I help you real good masser, in everyway," promises a female slave as she undulates on top of her master. CRACK! Meyer's nudge-nudge-wink-wink approach fails him completely here. He attempts to wring the slavery issue for maximum camp value, but his approach is so blatantly insensitive and exploitative that it will quite probably suck your bottom jaw to the floor in stunned silence.
Made in 1972, Blacksnake represented Meyer's return to independent filmmaking. After a two picture stint in Hollywood, which included Beyond the Valley of the Dolls at 20th Century Fox and The Seven Minutes at Warner Bros. (the former a roaring success, widely considered his best movie, and the latter, based on an Irving Wallace novel, a dismal failure), Meyer left behind his hopes of working within the Hollywood system. However, during his stay in Hollywood, the world of adult cinema had forever changed. Thanks to Deep Throat and the ensuing onslaught of hard-core pornographic movies, Russ Meyer's approach to nudity looked positively modest in comparison. Therefore for his first independently produced movie after his two-year Hollywood hiatus, Meyer didn't even attempt to play by the new rules of adult cinema. He jumped genres entirely.
When many directors switch to unfamiliar genres, they frequently produce generic movies; however, this movie has Russ Meyer's imprint all over it. It might be missing his usual preoccupation with the female form, but most all of this other trademarks are clearly in evidence. You'll still find Meyer's penchant for rapid-fire editing as he juxtaposes images in striking, almost cartoonish ways. For example, when Lady Susan and her husband's brother share a romantic moment in her bedroom, Meyer juxtaposes their tryst with shots of the plantation foreman (Percy Herbert, chewing the scenery) sneaking up on the mansion, hiding behind pillars, and hopping over fences.
In addition, the movie starts with some trademark Russ Meyer touches: waves crash on the beach and sugar cane sways in the soft breeze while a narrator sets the scene with a gloriously superfluous torrent of two-bit words. Meyer loves narrators. He uses them in almost all of his movies. This time, though, the narration forgoes Meyer's typical tongue-in-cheek approach. It's not exactly serious, but neither is it blatantly nonsensical either (as the narration typically is in Meyer's movies). The same holds true for the movie overall. Blacksnake definitely isn't a serious movie, but it's also much less playful than any of Meyer's previous movies. It's partly a lurid, sadistic yarn (this part played for laughs) and it's partly the story of a slave revolt on a Caribbean island (this part played largely straight). But the second part of this equation is only present to provide the movie with a sensational ending--as retribution is finally dealt out to the oppressors.
Blacksnake isn't as bad as many people would have you believe. VideoHound gives it a Woof! rating. But it certainly isn't a good movie. On the plus side, it features some of Meyer's best photography and reveals that he could have been a major Hollywood cinematographer if he had pursued that avenue. But on the debit side, Blacksnake revels in its own bad taste, while never becoming particularly outrageous. Meyer directs Blacksnake like a naughty little boy expecting his mother to tell him to stop at any moment.
Russ Meyer's Blacksnake is now available on laserdisc from RM Films International (distribution by Image Entertainment). Suggested retail price: $29.99. For additional information, we suggest you check out the Image Entertainment Web site and the official Russ Meyer Films International Web site.