Director: Russ Meyer
Arrow Films (PAL, Region 2)

On September 18, 2004, the cult film world lost possibly its greatest filmmaker: Russ Meyer. Suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia and shut away from the outside world, including most of his closest friends, Meyer passed away three days before anyone in the world was made aware of it. And even then, the expected outpouring of emotion did not happen. Left behind were 26 films of varying quality, but one film has stood out as a pop culture legend: FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! Re-released theatrically in 1995, the film has steadily grown in popularity over the years to become the director's most popular work (rivaling the big-studio epic BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS). RM Films has finally released the film on DVD in the US, albeit at an inflated price and with no extras of any kind. To show that Meyer's films were more deserving of the lavish red carpet treatment, Arrow Films in the UK stepped to the plate and licensed 18 of Meyer's biggest and best films. First up in the first group of six was FASTER PUSSYCAT, in an edition which would have Russ proud.

Opening with a captivating shot of soundtrack striations while fevered narrator John Furlong welcomes the audience to "violence, the word and the act!," FASTER PUSSYCAT soon begins with an awe-inspiring, fast-paced sequence introducing Varla, Rosie and Billie, three mountainous dancers go-go dancing away on the stage of a sleazy bar, with its patrons slobbering and screaming for them to "go! go! go!". The girls split from the club and hightail it into the desert, with the tires of their souped-up hot rods squealing as they race through winding roads. After a lakeside catfight and a chicken race almost ending in disaster, a happy-go-lucky all-American teenage couple happens upon the trio and challenges them to a race. It doesn't end pretty, with Varla cracking the back of the sore loser boyfriend and abducting the girlfriend so she won't squeal to the feds. While stopping for gas, they encounter an old pervert in a wheelchair and his son, the Vegetable, with muscles up to his ears. Overhearing the old man is loaded, they follow the pair to their dilapidated ranch and scheme to seduce some long green out of the father-son team who set their sights on the young kidnap victim. Of course nothing goes as planned and more bodies hit the floor in Varla's short-sighted quest for free cash.

It's an incredible insult to the talents of Meyer and his mouthwatering gang of gals that FASTER PUSSYCAT was an abysmal failure at the box office. Was it the uneasy mix of ass-kicking women and sexuality? Was 1965 too early to show breasty females beating the shit out of men, racing their hot rods in the middle of the desert, and acting as the sexy villains of such a piece? This is the reason Meyer and his cast attribute to the film's icy reception, and it's not hard to argue. There hadn't been a film like this before, especially with a leading lady like Tura Satana who asked no questions and took no prisoners. The violence isn't as vicious or nasty as MOTOR PSYCHO!, but it is still mildly more shocking because these ladies are defying the stereotypes of the strippers who rely on their managers or boyfriends to handle their lives. I think 1965 audiences wanted their women to be delectable, sexy, but subservient, and they certainly didn't get it with this one. The only girl who fits that description is the whiny Linda, but over the years, FASTER PUSSYCAT has stood the test of time BECAUSE of its cast of characters who have inspired the countless pro-woman action films of recent years. Meyer directs the film like a live action comic book, with characters shouting their larger-than-life dialogue so convincingly you expect to see word balloons pop up. More compelling than Meyer's trademark attention-grabbing editing style is his cinematography. Every frame is carefully composed and resembles a comic book frame to the T, and even when the film slows down in the middle half as the focus descends on Stuart Lancaster and his insane monologues, Meyer still creates a film which is gorgeous to look at.

Stripper and exotic dancer Tura Satana has become a cult icon from this one role alone. While she's been accused of some reviewers as too outrageous and loud to be called a good actress, I firmly disagree (the same accusation is also leveled at the other two leads; needless to say, this is hogwash in their cases, too). She can transition from cold-hearted bitch to seductive sexpot in a matter of seconds, and you know an actress has accomplished her goal when she BECOMES her character to the millions of fans who worship Satana. Her maniacal laugh, terrifying face of evil and talented mouth, spewing forth strands of venomous dialogue which pierce her targets with destructive force, could never have been duplicated, equaled or bettered by any other actress. She should have graduated to bigger and better parts. Instead, the box office failure of PUSSYCAT landed her an uncredited bit in OUR MAN FLINT, a 'Varla' rip-off character in Ted V. Mikels' ASTRO ZOMBIES and was wasted in a supporting role in the same director's THE DOLL SQUAD. She had retired and become a nurse when she was caught by surprise as the film regained its popularity thanks to Baltimore shock maestro John Waters' very public affection for the work. Today she is working on her autobiography (which from sneak peeks in Jimmy McDonough's Russ Meyer bio sounds like an amazing story!) and still makes public appearances dressed in a black reproduction of Varla's jumpsuit to wow audiences who desire to meet her in the flesh.

Haji had worked with Meyer as the female lead of MOTOR PSYCHO!, the male version of PUSSYCAT shot almost a year previously. She proved herself one tough cookie on the set of that film, and gave a dynamite performance as Ruby, the outspoken Cajun woman who helps Alex Rocco . She is the Pussycat who is often dismissed by fans: Satana was the leader and Lori the all-American blonde wet dream. But Haji has many great lines ("You're-a washed! Now I'm a-gonna spin-a-dry you!" "A soft drink? Honey, we don't-a like a-nothin' soft! Everything we touch is a-hard!") and is the most exotic cast member, with those gorgeous cat eyes (Haji was credited as Haji Cat on a few films). She claims she is a being from another galaxy sent to Earth and she is such a fascinating and unique creature of beauty that you can easily believe it! She would appear in more Meyer films than any other actress and like many Meyer women, would never go on to the success she so deserved. Her best non-Meyer film would be the obscure sex comedy BANG! BANG! THE MAFIA GANG, but fans enjoyed seeing her pop up in ILSA HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS, BIGFOOT, THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE and WHAM BAM THANK YOU SPACEMAN, among others.

Lori Williams is the actress of the trio who is a special Meyer lady: one who used padding to accent the bust she didn't have, and the only one to do this in all of Meyer's films! The smiley-faced blonde bombshell had worked in slightly bigger-budget films, including three Elvis films and a few of AIP's BEACH PARTY films, but only in very tiny bit parts. This was supposed to be her big break-out role and she swings her hips, dances frantically, and hurls dialogue so soaked in innuendo it almost drips with love juices. Of the troika of femme fatales, Williams is the "good girl" just living life to the fullest, so immediately is remembered fondly by viewers. But those seeking out more films to enjoy her sexy wiles will be disappointed to learn that none of her roles are as eager-to-please and memorable as this one. She was the "missing Pussycat" until a couple of years ago, when she emerged from hiding and began appearing with her co-stars at conventions, autograph shows and on this very DVD!

In addition to the three legendary stars, Meyer regular Stuart Lancaster makes a lasting impression as the Old Man, a slobbering degenerate anxious to get into the bikini of adorable little Susan Bernard. Bernard has gone down in history as The Uncooperative One in the cast, but considering this is a throwaway part which calls for nothing but whining and crying, she fits the bill. Bernard wouldn't do many more big films, but would unite with another Meyer starlet (Dolly Read from BVD) in THAT TENDER TOUCH, and gives a surprisingly excellent performance in that unsung gem. You can also spot her as the rape victim in Curtis Harrington's THE KILLING KIND, a villager in THE WITCHMAKER, the female heroine of Harry Novak's MACHISMO and in THE WITCHING, aka NECROMANCY. Like Lori Williams, this would be the largest role of her career. The other male stars (Ray Barlow, Mickey Foxx, Paul Trinka) make no impression, but for female and gay fans of Meyer's work, Dennis Busch is captivating as the muscle-bound Vegetable!

Unfortunately, the transfer for this Region 2 special edition isn't anything to be excited about. It's a vast improvement over the unauthorized French DVD, which pixellated like crazy, but the RM Films Region 1 edition may be better-looking, believe it or not. During any kind of motion, whether it be action or walking or even TALKING, there is a strange jittering which really detracts from the viewing experience. The English mono soundtrack is acceptable enough, but the music and sound effects are cranked up during the action sequences while dialogue scenes are quieter.

Despite the not-so-hot a/v quality, the extras are what will entice fans to pick this version up! "Go Pussycat Go!," an all-new featurette produced by Blue Underground, reunites the three Pussycats, Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams, and also interviews Susan Bernard about her work on the film. All three have held up well over the years and though Satana has gained weight (which happens to the best of us), she is still an imposing figure. The featurette introduces all three Pussycats and allows them to discuss their background (Satana and Haji's stripper days and Williams' Elvis/Beach Party films) before they jump into their memories of the rocky shoot of what would become the #1 cult film of all time. All three gals remember the unbearable heat shooting in the middle of the desert, Meyer's military-like directorial style, and the problems with Susan Bernard and her irritating stage mother. Satana talks about her confrontations with Meyer over many issues, including the "no sex during production" rule and meeting feminists who claim the film influenced them to be proud of their womanhood! But the best stories come from her working towards getting Susan Bernard to truly fear her to bring out a better performance from her and her disdain for her mother halting production. Because she was a martial arts expert, she also remembers staging the fight scenes with unreceptive Ray Barlow and the very dedicated Paul Trinka. Haji is quite animated and discusses her discovering her character was a lesbian, the fight scene with Lori Williams, and the primitive shooting conditions. Haji tells a fantastic story about her angry confrontation with a Hollywood bigwig who told her to take Meyer's films off her resume; she continues to praise Russ for never giving any woman the casting couch treatment! This exotic spitfire comes across as quite a character and like the other two Pussycats, should write a book about her life and career! Williams recalls almost not being cast due to her average breast size, being wary of Satana and her tough exterior and her apprehension over the campy line delivery, the nude shower scene, and taking the film off her resume for a period of time! Goodie two-shoes Susan Bernard tells her thoughts on the shoot, including her awkward relationship with Satana and how she became involved with the production while she was a minor! Even though the stories of her have been somewhat negative, Bernard comes across as a very sweet woman who was probably a major fish out of water working with Meyer and his three larger-than-life leading ladies. Intercut between the interview segments are contemporary black-and-white scenes of the gals posing and strutting for the camera, together and solo, with a nice retro feel and appreciation for their cult legend status. Mark Raskin contributes a great original score to this 25-minute doc.

There is not one, but TWO commentaries included on the disc! A brand-new commentary was recorded at the same time as the featurette with Tura Satana, Haji and Lori Williams. The Pussycats elaborate on their stories and also discuss character motivation, specific members of cast and crew, the Susan Bernard issue, and give their final words to Russ. Haji also recalls working with Russ on other films (MOTOR PSYCHO!, GOOD MORNING AND GOODBYE, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and all three gals even discuss their offers to do Playboy! This is a marvelous commentary and it's great that all three girls are still friends today, making the round at conventions to meet their fans together. I can tell you from experience that Tura Satana is a certified sweetheart!

Russ Meyer's audio commentary from the Image laserdisc has now graduated to DVD and it's a real doozy! The late great master of buxotic sexploitation is an uninhibited speaker and obviously holds great affection for this film. Even though he leans into basically narrating the on-screen goings-on and quoting the dialogue, there are still a good number of fantastic behind-the-scenes stories and pure Meyer quotes that fans will adore. Some great moments: he'd like to make a film featuring male members (!), he speaks out about hardcore porno, his love for the black-and-white photography, the shooting locations, his affection for all three Pussycats, the genesis of the film's script, the re-release of the film in 1995, Satana demanding "a dick" while shooting the film, his girlfriend Rena Horten (the star of MUDHONEY) complaining about not being in the film or allowed on the set, and expresses disappointment at the film's failure (noting ex-wife Eve's anger at the low box office returns). He mentions his next picture (THE JAWS OF LORNA) which of course was never made, but he says the script is already written by Roger Ebert. I wonder what came of this? He also berates old Army buddy Bill Tomko for bitching about putting his name on the film! Meyer sounds at times like Adam West and his speaking voice is very smooth and listenable, but as this was in the early days of audio commentaries, there is no moderator to direct Meyer's thoughts. Though this is of major historical value, there is too much play-by-play commentary and too few dead spots.

It's too bad there isn't a stills gallery of Meyer's scrumptious photography and stills from the film, but in place of a collection of images is a collection of trailers. The Russ Meyer trailer reel includes previews for FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, the criminally underrated BLACKSNAKE!, MUDHONEY, VIXEN, WILD GALS OF THE NAKED WEST, SUPERVIXENS, BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS, CHERRY HARRY & RAQUEL, and COMMON LAW CABIN (another vastly underrated Meyer flick). (Casey Scott)

Special thanks to Kit Gavin for the screen grabs