Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Friday, April 3, 2015

[Genophobia] Lila (1968)

Lila (sexploitation starlet Susan Stewart), a stripper at one of the many burlesque houses in town, has a tendency to pick one member of the male viewing audience and take them out for a night that they won't ever forget. She takes them to an abandoned warehouse (assuring them that "This is where it's at!"), puts on a private show, and then get down to business.

The first man that we see her do this with is a vintage sleazeball-hipster hybrid with an absurd
Lila (Mantis in Lace) - Poster Image
Poster Image
dangling ear ring. Unfortunately for him, he introduces some LSD into Lila's time-tested tradition, and she starts to freak out. The business at hand may begin with a little casual sex, but it ultimately ends with his murder.

Lila must enjoy these newly added elements in her routine, because she does them time and time again. Once the murders are complete, she chops the bodies up with a meat cleaver, and stuffs them in a cardboard box that she casually discards for the police to find.  (On a side note, there are multiple synopses of this film written online that state Lila's modus operandi is that she murders men with garden tools.  These synopses all appear to have been written by people who have not actually seen the film.  Only one of her victims is killed with a garden tool—a hoe—while the rest are offed with a screwdriver and a meat cleaver).

Oddly, it's never exactly revealed why Lila suddenly becomes a homicidal maniac. It's unlikely that it all stems from a bad trip—if that were the case, you suspect she would stop dropping acid—and there is some indistinct trauma in her past that is only hinted at. "They made me do things I didn't want to do," she tells one of her victims, and then proceeds to ramble on about her hatred for cucumbers, watermelons and bananas. Especially bananas. Always with the bananas.

The murder investigation lands on the desks of homicide cops Sergeant Collins (Steve Vincent) and Lieutenant Ryan (James Brand), who go through the motions of solving the case without much luck. There's a reason these guys aren't the stars of DRAGNET. Sure, they deduce that the killer is operating out of one of the local hippie joints and that the boxes are coming from one of the local warehouses, but ultimately it's coincidence that cracks the case.

A real estate agent is showing off the warehouse to a prospective buyer and stumbles across some fresh blood stains. When Collins and Ryan catch wind of this tip, they merely go to the warehouse and wait in hiding for the killer to strike again...which invariably doesn't take long.

Lila's latest conquest, though, carries a gun—but only for protection, as he sometimes has to make night deposits for his job.  Overall, he seems like quite a law-abiding citizen, which only serves to make what follows even more baffling.  When the police reveal themselves, his reaction is to go for the gun, accuse Lila of setting him up, and fire off a few shots, getting himself killed in the ensuing shootout.

Lila, however, is taken into custody without further bloodshed.

To say that this movie is heavily padded would be putting it lightly, but it would also be missing the point. The intention behind the film wasn't to tell a great story, but rather to pander to two distinctive audiences: the nudie set, and the horror set (and if the two of them intersect, then that's all the better). The real point of the movie is to show off a little gore (that cheap, down-and-dirty drive-in style stuff) and a whole lot of gyrating and jiggling flesh. That's why we spend such an inordinate amount of time with people who have no bearing whatsoever on the story, like the other dancers in the club who exist for no other reason than to climb on stage and exhibit their mammaries for five minutes at a time. There's even a completely random scene smack dab in the middle of the movie where a wannabe stripper gets the casting couch treatment from the owner of the club. If you're thinking that either of these characters are going to become important members of the cast, then you obviously haven't been paying attention.

Lila (Mantis in Lace) - Lila Undone
Lila, Undone
Unfortunately for us, the striptease scenes drag on well past the point of titillation and quickly become rather tiresome. Even the actual sex scenes are rather dull, unless you enjoy looking at a man's bare back for extended periods of time. LILA was made a few years before hardcore pornography would be available theatrically, so I guess this is what audiences had to make do with. Poor schlubs.

The acid trip scenes are done in the way that was typical of the era—a lot of colored camera filters and weird lighting effects—but there were occasionally brief glimpses of some bizarre hallucination (at one point, Lila sees a surgeon that isn't actually there). They're entertaining in a naive sort of way, but would have been better if they pushed the envelope farther than the standard. To go along with the mod acid scenes, we get a lot of groovy dialogue that is charmingly dated (if indeed people ever spoke like that).

One of the best scenes involves psychologist Frank (last name unrevealed, played by Stuart Lancaster), who hangs out in gogo clubs and strip joints under the auspices of doing research on the "psychedelic generation". As soon as Lila shows an interest in him, though, he is just as interested in her body as he is her mind—but at least he remains professional enough to refuse the LSD she offers him, and to attempt to analyze her during foreplay ("Interesting...interesting case."). This scene would have been the perfect time to expose why Lila had gone bonkers, but it simply was not meant to be.

Just like Sister Sarah in EVIL COME, EVIL GO, Lila has her own theme song ("She'll take your
Lila (Mantis in Lace) - Interesting...Interesting Case
"Interesting...Interesting Case"
hand/she'll understand/she'll take your heart and soul/young or old/ mantis in lace"
), but unlike Sister Sarah, Lila puts it on whenever she feels the need to perform a striptease. It was written by Vic Lance, who composed music for other "classics" like THE JOYS OF JEZEBEL (1970), THE EXOTIC DREAMS OF CASANOVA (1971), and THE DIRTY MIND OF YOUNG SALLY (1973). He was something of an actor, as well, and even appeared in this film as Tiger, Lila's first victim who turned her onto LSD. The song was performed by Lynn Harper, who had once been a country western singer, as well as an actress on classic sitcom MY THREE SONS and the biopic THE CHRISTINE JORGENSON STORY. She has worn a lot of hats since, including radio personality, talk show host, and newspaper columnist, and these days frequently shows up as a commentator on CNN and MSNBC. When I asked her, Harper did confirm that she and the "Lila" singer were one and the same, and that while under a recording contract to Gene Autry, she was sometimes required to record songs for films. She even attended the film's premiere, and was greatly impressed that she not only received screen credit, but credit in all of the advertisements, as well.

The script was written by Sanford White, whose only other credits are 1967's FREE LOVE CONFIDENTIAL (writer and producer) and 1970's THE ART OF GENTLE PERSUASION (director).  Director William Rotsler, on the other hand, seems to have lived a life big enough that even a book couldn't hold it all. He grew up on a ranch, participated in WWII, attended a year of college, went to art school, became a sculptor, became a nudie photographer, helped Marilyn Monroe shop for a house, appeared in films, began making industrial films (for Carnation, Mattel, Lockheed, etc), began making feature films, began writing non-fiction books (Contemporary Erotic Cinema), began writing fiction, began writing licensed material (for Marvel Comics and Star Trek, among others) and novelizations (The A-Team, Grease 2, and even Joanie Loves Chachi!), and wrote for, drew for, and published fanzines.  He published more than 50 books, titled Harlan Ellison's famous short story "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream", supplied Uhura from Star Trek with a first name, was nominated for the Nebula and the Hugo awards, and I have barely even scratched the surface.  He was the sort of person who alters pop culture from beneath the surface, so you are familiar with him without even knowing it.  He also brought us movies like AGONY OF LOVE (1966), THE GIRL WITH THE HUNGRY EYES (1967), SUBURBAN PAGANS (1968), THE GODSON (1971), and STREET OF A THOUSAND PLEASURES (1972).  He passed away in 1997 at the age of 71, but left behind an epic and expansive body of work.

LILA is also known as MANTIS IN LACE, and was released in at least two different theatrical versions—one capitalizing more on the sex, and one capitalizing more on the violence.  The version appearing on the Something Weird DVD release appears to combine elements of both, and is said to be the most complete version available. Included as a bonus feature are outtakes and unused footage that runs longer than the film itself, so an industrious superfan could theoretically piece together an extended fan edit that would defy all comprehension.

If you are that superfan, please send me a copy.


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