Bad Girls Go To Hell is legendary stuff, if only for the title, surely one of the most iconic movie titles ever. For years, it was seen only as a badass trailer, with rare festival screenings helping to build the legend. Inevitably, the name has been appropriated for T-shirts, burlesque nights and any manner of rebellious rock ‘n’ roll excess – after all, who wants to be a good girl? That many of those using the title didn’t even know that it was a film, let alone a notorious sexploitation film, is always entertaining.
The film marks infamous director Doris Wishman’s transition from the colour nudist romps that she had made her name with – gloriously kitsch nudie cutie films like Blaze Starr Goes Nudist, Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls and the astounding Nude on the Moon – into the mid-Sixties world of the black and white ‘roughie’, as pioneered by films like Russ Meyer‘s Lorna and David Friedman’s The Defilers. As the market for lightweight, sex-free nudity became saturated, something new was needed to satisfy the fickle exploitation film crowd, and as movies were still unable to show any level explicit sex or full nudity, filmmakers instead filled this new generation of movies – eschewing the vivid colour of the early Sixties for a decidedly gritty monochrome – with violence, rape, torture and a general air of unsavoury grimness. These are the sort of films that, even now, you might want to take a wash after watching. Bad Girls Go To Hell is no exception.
Gigi Darlene (voluptuous and sexy and badass in a way that only Sixties girls ever were) plays Meg Kalton, a housewife who finds herself in a heap of trouble. After hubby heads to work, she slips into her see-thru negligee and takes the trash out, only to be assaulted by the leering janitor. Although blameless, she is still somehow blackmailed by the janitor into visiting his apartment later on, where he again attempts rape – only for Meg to kill him with a handy ashtray. She flees to New York, hoping to start a new life, but is soon caught up with assorted unsavoury types – a man who offers her a place to stay becomes a belt-weilding sadist after a swig of booze, a flatmate introduces her to the joys of lesbian sex, while another landlady’s husband rapes her. The film ends with a bit of a plot twist that suggests there will be no end to this particular nightmare.
As with most of Wishman’s films, Bad Girls Go To Hell was shot without sync sound, and so the camera points pretty much anywhere except at the speaker’s face during dialogue scenes, resulting in a genuinely bizarre feel. There are enough off-kilter camera angles outside the dialogue scenes to suggest that the strange look of her work was at least partly a stylistic choice for Wishman rather than either accident or necessity as many have said, and it certainly makes the film look interesting. In a world where practically every movie looks interchangeable, these decidedly weird films stand out more than ever, having a strange experimental arthouse vibe to them. I’m sure Wishman, who never thought of her work as being anything more than exploitation product, would be amused to hear that, but I’ll stand by it – these films are, in their own way, every bit as experimental as any underground movie of the era. Perhaps more so, as there is clearly no contrivance at work here – Wishman was absolutely trying to shoot commercial movies.
Notably – and in common with a lot of roughies of the time – here’s little nudity in the film ,far less than in Wishman’s nudist movies – and the sex is liberally smeared with violence and kink (though pretty tame by modern standards), giving a general atmosphere of sleaze and sordidness that is impressively squalid. It’s ironic that, in order to placate the censors and move the bare flesh out of the safe confines of there nudist camp, filmmakers were forced to up the violence, the abuse and the general grubbiness, whereas now these are the very elements that have caused these films problems. Bad Girls Go To Hell, like many rough, works more as grubby melodrama than eroticism, closer to other gritty non-sex films of the era like The Naked Kiss than anything.
Wishman is a master of making something out of nothing. There’s a sense of urgency and desperation about this film that oozes beyond the characters and their grotty little lives and into the movie as a whole – this is almost immersive cinema, becoming an enclosed, insular slice of low life that hooks you in and doesn’t let go. A frantic, relentless jazz score manages to make even the slower moments seem dramatic, and at 65 minutes, the film dashes through its catalogue of unsavoury acts very efficiently. The result is a classic example of a genre that, even now, remains under-appreciated (even exploitation movie critics have a tendency to overlook these movies while seeking out ever more niche subjects to become instant experts in) but which includes some of the most down ‘n’ dirty, provocative slices of sleaze cinema ever made.