One of the many products of the American “hicksploitation” cinema (spearheaded largely by 1972’s DELIVERANCE), POOR PRETTY EDDIE has all the accompanying stereotypical depictions of backwoods living to feeds its cinematic engine. But aside from its all-around strangeness, much of the fascination with the film comes from the fact that it assembles a familiar, respected cast of Hollywood actors, making for an unusual blend of exploitive melodrama with a tone that can almost be described as deep south gothic. Also known as BLACK VENGEANCE and REDNECK COUNTY RAPE, POOR PRETTY EDDIE now makes its High Definition debut on Blu-ray (along with an accompanying DVD mastered from the same elements).
Famous African American singer Liz Wetherly (Leslie Uggams, SKYKACKED) decides she needs some rest and relaxation. After singing “The National Anthem” before a stadium, she takes off for the road solo, and her car breaks down in… the middle of nowhere. Deep in the woods lies a run down lodge/motel called Bertha’s Oasis, run by an aging, overweight ex burlesque performer (Shelley Winters, BLOODY MAMA) who has a Country singer wannabe boy toy named Eddie (Michael Christian, “Peyton Place”). Even with a too-tall, scarred handyman named Reno (Ted Cassidy, “The Addams Family”) on the premises, Liz’s car never gets fixed, and Eddie will do anything to keep her around, assaulting and raping her in the process. With no phones and the law being no help whatsoever, Liz’s nightmarish hillbilly ordeal ultimately leads to a forced wedding with the deranged Eddie, and hopefully at least one objector will intervene.
Shot on location in Athens, Georgia in 1973, POOR PRETTY EDDIE is actually a hard film to describe, but by and large, even though it doesn't contain any nudity and the on-screen violence is limited, it attempts to excel in bad taste. There’s actually a few arty and surreal moments (Liz envisioning her shooting Eddie in the chest from her camera lens, and later looking closely in the mirror to see his face in hers), mixed with comedy and a tamely lensed, slow-mo rape scene intercut with a pair of canines humping before a handful of spectators! All the characters are suitably unhinged and unpredictable, and the film spends enough time to develop them. In fact, none of them are at all likable; even the victim Liz arrives on the scene, arrogant, cold and not wanting to make any friends (I guess that’s what we now call a “diva”). In a kind of sick relationship with the much older Bertha and shaking his hips Elvis style and wearing loud outfits, Christian’s Eddie (as a kind of “kept boy”) becomes increasingly despicable, not only making life miserable for Liz, but also to just about everyone else (I won’t reveal how he enacts revenge on Reno).
Shelley Winters has made a number of exploitation films in her career, so her turn as a drunken has-been (real glamour shots of the much younger Winters are in display in her bedroom) control freak is really no surprise, and as always, she’s good at it. Slim Pickens shows up as the jovial, tomato-sucking, yet perverted and racist southern sheriff who has a mute, slingshot slinging simpleton relation (Lou Joffred) always hanging around him, and Dub Taylor plays an equally unethical justice of the peace who pins medals on his well-stained Pabst Blue Ribbon t-shirt (together, they put Liz on display and humiliate her in a bar in a memorably rowdy scene which has crazy Eddie as the voice of reason!).
Although POOR PRETTY EDDIE has been available on DVD from budget label Trinity Entertainment (with a cover depicting PSYCHO-style horrors) Film Chest and Virgil Films have now released it as a Blu-ray/DVD combo. While this certainly looks better than the Trinity release, the Blu-ray format doesn’t do the “restored” 1080p HD 1.78:1 presentation any favors. Here, the film is perfectly watchable, but the overall image, while smooth, is on the soft side. Detail is substandard (dark, "day for night" scenes look horrid) and colors tend to be muted. The image has been cleaned up a great deal, but some emulsion scratches and several splices are still on display on the 35mm print source. The first half of the film actually looks better than the second, with the picture at that point becoming increasingly mucky looking, not to mention a greenish halo effect appearing on the outline of people’s faces. The 5.1 mono audio mix is passable, with some distortion and crackle present. An anamorphic DVD is also included, and it really doesn’t look that much different than the Blu-ray (by jason). Optional Spanish subtitles are also included.
Joe Rubin moderates an excellent commentary with cinematographer David Worth, who never runs out of things to say and remembers a lot about making the production. Worth discusses what late director Robinson was like, shares anecdotes about the well-known cast, the drinking and partying on and off the set, and his artistic intentions while shooting it. Our friend Chris Poggiali scribes a wonderfully massive essay on the film, including an explanation of its drawn out theatrical history (the re-cut PG version known as HEARTBREAK MOTEL and several other retitlings) as well numerous interview quotes from stars Uggams and Christian. A restoration comparison is on hand (although clean-up has been done on the elements, the colors and clarity evidently haven’t changed much) as is a newly-made demo trailer, not the original theatrical one. A postcard depicting the original poster art is included as an insert inside the packaging. (George R. Reis)
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