CULT FILM The year of cinematic enlightenment was 1967, with movies as disparate as Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, I Am Curious (Yellow), The President's Analyst, and Week End all proclaiming the dawn of a truly adult era. Of course, not everybody was on that page. Some quite possibly couldn't make out the text if they tried.
Clinging to its own personal celluloid Dark Ages was Shanty Tramp, which flew under reviewers' radar while making a tidy profit from drive-in and grindhouse patrons with zero use for Godard. One of those movies that, once seen, can never be forgotten (though some might wish they could), it's steadily accrued a cult following, with a legit Sinister Cinema DVD release last year and one-off screenings like Thrillville's at the Four Star this week.
Advertised "for mature adults only!" with tellingly ungrammatical lure "Crowds! Talk! Bold! Visual! Naughty! Action!" Shanty Tramp is lurid in the most immature ways possible. Like much pre-hardcore smut, it remains all the smuttier for coarsely suggesting while seldom showing more than an occasionally topless woman in a spotlessly white, low-cut cocktail dress.
This incongruous apparel is form-fitted to titular tramp Emily (Lee Holland), whose meanderings around her small Florida bayou burg one long hot night wreak no end of havoc. The tawdry melodramatics encompass motorcycle-gang rumblage, attempted rape, miscegenation, phony rape accusations, racist lynch mobs, public inebriation, incest, belt-whuppin', car theft, murder, mobsters, parricide, and a bogus evangelical salvation that triggers one of the greatest closing lines in film history.
Actually, this movie is wall-to-wall quotable, whether it's Emily telling her soused paw "Find yourself a nice warm place in the gutter and sleep it off" or a bit-part biker opining "Crazy like, man! Like me and my chick wanna find a dark corner someplace, daddy-o." Yet for all its absurdity, the feature is scarcely less sophisticated in its chiding attitude toward Southern race relations than Oscar's overrated 1967 Best Picture pick, In the
Heat of the Night.
Presented by exploitation king K. Gordon Murray's loftily named Trans-International Films (distributor mostly of dubbed Mexican horror and European fairy-tale cheapies), Shanty Tramp isn't just so-bad-it's-good. It's so bad it's great. One senses at least some participants knew how trashy their Tramp was. It's anyone's guess whether the variably amateurish (but vivid) actors
were in on the joke, or its butt.
Despite its rising infamy, little is known about Shanty Tramp's creation. Whatever became of Holland or fellow cast members? Director Joseph P. Mawra made just three more movies, with titles like Savages from Hell (1968). Even the enterprising Murray was out of the biz by 1974, dying of a heart attack just five years later after the IRS seized all his film prints for tax evasion.
One Shanty Tramp resident did make it to the proverbial big time. Mawra's assistant Bob Clark graduated to directing '70s horror cult classics (including 1974's Black Christmas), hit a gusher called Porky's (1982), then spent two decades shinnying up the pay-pole and sliding down the integrity one. His career ended with double-whammies The Karate Dog and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (both 2004). The comfortable retirement such labors had earned was cut short in 2007 by a drunk driver. Now that's a trajectory even beyond K. Gordon Murray's sordid imagination.
Thurs/21, 8 p.m., $10
Four Star, 2200 Clement, SF