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I Have Seen "Love Me Deadly"

If you keep 100+ DVDs in your Netflix queue, shuffle them periodically, and then make a concerted effort NOT to read the descriptions on the sleeves when they arrive, occasionally you will receive a DVD that completely baffles you.  This is a good thing.  You now have the rare opportunity to screen something that you apparently thought at one time might be interesting, but can do so with absolutely no expectations as to what the film will actually be about.

Hot on the heels of The Sinful Dwarf, my queue coughed up another real corker this week in Love Me Deadly (1973).   Looking at the title (but not the year), I figured “Love Me Deadly” could belong to any number of genres: noir, neo-noir, thriller, Fatal Attraction knock-off, horror, etc.  Popping it into the player, a menu based on the poster to the left appeared.  As you can see, Love Me Deadly would seem to be a film about having sex with zombies.  Here we see a zombie with the good fortune to find a rather fetching young lady nude atop his grave, so one would have to assume the movie will narrate the ups-and-downs of their relationship in some way—perhaps they will both laugh a little, cry a little, and in the process discover the special quirks that make female and zombie psychology so different.  

Frankly, I was a little disappointed with my selection and a bit surprised that I would have the bad taste to order a relatively recent zombie film.  In general, the zombie genre has become tiresomely repetitive, and I had a hard time believing I would have willingly added another pedestrian exercise in apocalyptic brain-eating to my queue.

But then the movie started.  A blond dressed in black sits at the back of a funeral service.  The family files past the coffin to pay their respects, but the blond remains behind.  Then, with the room finally empty, she makes her way toward the casket.  As she lifts her veil, a sensuous smile is on her lips.  She bends down toward the corpse, getting a little too close perhaps….holy shit, this is a movie about necrophilia!  A quick assessment of the hairstyles, costuming, and made-for-tv cinematography locates the film’s production as sometime in the early 1970s.  Oh happy day, it isn’t another boring zombie retread after all—it is a film about necrophilia made in the early 1970s.  A film about necrophilia from the early 1970s that I have never seen before and had completely forgotten about.  A film about necrophilia made before the invention of irony in the 1990s, and thus likely to be a “serious” attempt to exploit and/or understand the corpse-loving community.   

I won’t offer a full recap of Love Me Deadly here, as there are many sites devoted to humorously re-narrating bad movies that have already tackled this apparently overlooked excursion in sleaze (for a scene by scene dissection, go to http://mmmmmovies.blogspot.com/2008/10/love-me-deadly-1973-or-dead-man-is-good.html).  The film does raise a few noteworthy issues, however. 

1. Incredibly, Love Me Deadly has a theme song.  Even more oddly, the theme song is clearly and yet inappropriately performed in the signature style of a James Bond epic.

Love me deadly...kiss me deadly
This very special love can never be...
Touch me deadly...hold me deadly...
Look in my eyes and tell me what you see...


The lyrics raise a few interesting questions about the title.  Who exactly is engaged in the “deadly” loving here?  Can the dead motivate the use of adverbs modifying verbs they can no longer really enact?  Is the last line a rhetorical request?  

I imagine the decision to go “Bond” was made in pre-production, the idea being that if you are going to make a sleazy film about necrophilia for mass release, a “classy” theme song might go a long way toward making it all seem somewhat more respectable.  Oddly, it has the exact opposite effect, as does the entire score, which is so unbelievably inappropriate that it almost makes you mad to see necrophiliacs treated with so little respect. 

2.  The film was written and directed by Jacques Lacerte.  The obligatory stop at IMDB reveals Lacerte was born somewhere in Arkansas in 1928 and was at some point the drama instructor at Morningside High School in L.A.   Love Me Deadly is his one and only credit, both for writing and directing. Thus: Cajun born on the bayou moves to L.A., teaches acting to high school kids, and then writes and directs the one project burning within him—a film about necrophilia.  Obviously, a Lacerte bio-pic is the film that really needs to be made.

3.  I’m not sure exactly what causes someone to go “necro”—but if we are to believe Love Me Deadly, it would appear to have something to do with unresolved family issues. Specifically, if you remember vast segments of your childhood unfolding in sepia-toned slow-motion photography, chances are you might be a necrophile.  As in Psycho--the film Love Me Deadly wants so desperately to match in terms of "shock value"--director Lacerte offers a full psycho-pathological post-mortem toward the end of the story.  But who cares, really?  Hitchcock's decision to spend the last ten minutes of Psycho "diagnosing" Norman is the film's one stumble, and the device is even less convincing here.

4.  Narrative question:  If half your cast is dead and puts up little resistance to the typical emplotment of seduction and romance, where do you go to generate conflict?  Love Me Deadly has two solutions:

a).  Divide the necrophiles into two categories: "good" necros and "bad" necros.  Funeral-crashing Lindsey is a “good” necrophile in that there is a psychological trauma at the root of her perversion, so some hope remains that she might be cured and/or reformed.  In the process of following her warped desires, however, she comes in contact with the seedy world of “bad” necrophiles, who we learn are generally drawn from the ranks of Satanic morticians (they apparently do it more out of sport, really, and to appease Satan--who as the movies have taught us often demands his subjects engage in disgusting rituals of one kind or another).

Conflict results when the good “traumatized” necrophile wants out but the bad “I’m in it for occult kicks” necrophile doesn’t want to refund the fees associated with her morgue privileges.  We also know the leader of the bad necros is really bad because he isn’t content to simply wait for a new corpse to show up, but instead goes out searching for hustlers and hookers to transform into slab-worthy companions (kudos to actor William Quinn for tackling the substantial challenge in playing a hustler who is embalmed alive by this necro-John. Playing a convincing "embalmed alive" is probably not something typically covered in intro acting classes). No doubt this particularly ghoulish scene was added--not only to make Lindsey slightly more sympathetic as a necro-heroine--but also to prevent liberated, free-thinking, pot-smoking hippies of the early 1970s from regarding necrophilia as a “victimless crime.” 

b).  The second plot strategy is to have the “good” necrophile meet a romantic object who is actually still among the living, necessitating that she attempt to break free of her tormenting secret perversion so that she might have a future with pulse-boy.  Here the film falls back on the tried-and-true formula of the “love triangle,” albeit with the somewhat novel twist of casting one-third of the triangle as dead. 

5.  How much convincing does it take to agree to be in a movie about necrophilia?  Does your agent talk you into or out of such a career move?  What happens to people after having been in a movie about necrophilia?  In the case of Love Me Deadly, the answers are actually quite fascinating.  Lindsey is played by Mary Wilcox, who IMDB claims is now serving as an Anglican priest in Edmonton, Alberta.  But that’s not really all that weird, I guess, since she wasn’t actually a necrophile but only someone who found herself briefly sucked into the world of necrophiliac exploitation.  Her other credits are actually quite diverse:  Love American Style, Mannix, the blaxploitation classic Willie Dynamite.  But here’s the real shocker:  Mary Wilcox went on to be a writer for SCTV—an Emmy-award winning writer for SCTV no less (one win in 1981 plus 4 other nominations).  She even appeared in a few episodes as a supporting player.  From jaw-dropping exploitation oddity to the writing staff of perhaps the greatest single achievement in all of media history (and then on to the priesthood after that).  Not bad.  And it certainly goes a long way toward making her performance in Love Me Deadly that much funnier (did this ever play on "Dr. Tongue," for example?)

Wilcox’s (living) co-star and love interest is an even more bizarre story.  The man who tempts Lindsey to abandon her life of romancing cadavers is none other than Lyle Waggoner.  His credits are also a diverse sampling of famous television franchises across the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, but he is probably best known for appearing in the cast of The Carol Burnett Show between 1967 and 1974.  In fact, that was his steady gig during the time he made Love Me Deadly.  So if you’re playing the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game, that’s only two degrees from Tim Conway’s “Dorf” to Waggoner finding his wife nude in the company of Satanists as she compels a new stiff to "love her deadly."  Astonishing, really.  One can only imagine the conversations backstage at Television City after the Burnett show’s summer hiatus that year.  What did you do over the break?  Conway: “I shot World’s Greatest Athlete over at Disney.”  Waggoner: “I made a quickie about a chick who f*#ks corpses…oh wait, here comes Carol and Harvey.”  Turns out 1973 was a busy year for Waggoner.  He also appeared as the celebrity hunk in the first ever issue of Playgirl.  

God bless you, Netflix.  Sadly, once streaming on demand completely replaces movies in the mail, the thrill of being ambushed by such unknown titles and unexpected histories will be yet another cinephilic pleasure lost to the ages.  Point and click may be more convenient, but a mysterious DVD in the mailbox still holds the greatest potential for eliciting the coveted  WTF?-factor.   

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